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Is This the Worst Parenting Advice Ever?

Posted by on May 5, 2012 | 35 Comments

“Kids should not be running in ‘minimalist footwear’ at all and, as in other shoes, should be wearing brand name running shoes with good motion control, cushioning, etc.”

- David Davidson, D.P.M., president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM), Running Times Magazine, April 2010

Parents: Where does this statement rank as the worst advice you’ve ever heard?

I think you can guess where I’d cast my vote. This ranks right up there with “Buy your kid everything they desire”, “Hold your baby over an unlit stove burner so the gas will help it fall asleep”, or “Just leave your kids in the car while you visit the strip club” advice.

Seriously Dr. Davidson?

Let’s ignore the research on running gait, anecdotal evidence regarding foot health, our evolutionary history, logic, and common sense for a moment. You’re trying to sell us on the idea that we should be encasing our kids’ feet in shoes with “good motion control…”?! Really?

The good doctor is claiming we need to limit the movement of our children’s feet to maintain health. I didn’t realize the human body functioned better when immobilized. If we use this logic, why don’t we go a step further. Instead of exposing our children to the rigors of regular exercise, shouldn’t we be promoting a nice, safe sedentary lifestyle? Shouldn’t parents focus on finding a good, engrossing video game coupled with a good supportive couch? And we can’t have any of that crazy Wii or Kinect bullshit… it’s just way too dangerous.

What if this isn’t good enough, though? Should we further immobilize our children? How about a full body cast? According to the good doctor’s apparent logic, that should result in optimal health.

I can understand the medical community covering their ass by recommending a slow transition to minimalist shoes if kids have been wearing motion control shoes, but an outright blanket statement like this is absurd. Is this evidence-based? If so, can the good doctor give the citation of the peer-reviewed research that suggests name brand motion control shoes with ample cushioning are somehow better for our children?

If you’re shaking your head from side to side, you’re right. This evidence isn’t cited because it does not exist. The truth is the medical community pumps out statements like this on a regular basis because of their own flawed training, opinions developed based on shoe marketing campaigns, or groupthink. Worse, because they have a “DPM” after their name, people are more likely to believe every statement they vomit. We’re trained to believe “experts” even though they are subject to the same biases and logical flaws that plague the rest of us.

The Preventative Medicine Paradigm

There’s a growing movement toward preventative health. The idea is simple- we’ll have fewer medical problems if we take steps to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes habits such as:

  • Eating a healthy balanced diet without overconsumption
  • Regular exercise
  • Brushing our teeth and flossing daily
  • Limiting our intake of alcohol, drugs, or other possible harmful substances
  • Having regular medical screening to catch disease early

The idea is to strengthen the body, maintain health, and catch problems early. It helps people live healthier, longer lives and reduces medical costs. It rejects the idea of “treatment-based medicine” that fixes problems once they occur. It’s a great idea widely supported by the medical community.

How does shoe choice fit this paradigm?

The good doctor recommends shoes that limit movement of our kids’ feet. We know immobilization weakens anatomical structures. In essence, he’s recommending shoes that would weaken our kids’ feet. This idea sets our kids up for a lifetime of reliance on supportive shoes and… well, the services of a sports podiatrist. This is the epitome of the treatment-based medicine paradigm. Don’t bother strengthening the body; instead rely on a lifetime of treatment. I like to call ideas like this “medical dumbassery.”

This seems like the same logic as telling a parent to feed their kid potato chips, taffy,  soda, and sausage for every meal because they make choke on a piece of broccoli. No worries, though, we can get the kids on some good diabetes and blood pressure meds, and there’s always the option of heart surgery later in life.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow our kids to go barefoot when there’s no significant danger of injury, or have them wear a flat-soled minimalist shoe that didn’t restrict movement of the foot? This would allow for normal, healthy foot development. THIS would be the epitome of logical preventative health.

Of course I don’t have fancy initials after my name. I don’t lead a major organization of doctors with an even fancier name. I’m just a dumb homeless blogger that relies on silly ideas like logic and common sense. What do I know?

Parents: Agree with my assessment? Share this post on your favorite social media or email to your closest friends, family, and coworkers. Let’s start a revolution to protect your kids’ feet.

###

Check out this article by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella regarding kids and minimalist shoes: http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2011/09/28/kids-minimalist-shoes-ensure-natural-foot-development/

Also, check out the video from Pete Larson’s RunBlogger blog: http://www.runblogger.com/2012/05/set-your-piggies-free-when-it-comes-to.html

 

 

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35 Comments

  1. Glenn
    May 7, 2012

    “He’s not a doctor… he’s a podiatrist! Anyone can get into podiatry school.” -Jerry Seinfeld

  2. RunningPirate
    May 6, 2012

    ***PROVISO: I’m not a parent, nor do I play on on TV***

    I think the good Dr’s statement would be so much more honest if he actually NAMED the brand of shoes he thinks the kids should be wearing (e.g. “I think kids would be best suited wearing NIKE brand footwear with motion control, stability control and rigmarole for better foot health.”

    This is shocking, but then again, it’s not. It takes several generations to rid ourselves of the various -ism’s (race, sex) and -phobia’s…and the current generation has not been fully convinced, yet.

    RP

  3. Mark Matthews
    May 6, 2012

    I see my kids run barefoot, and I envy their form, their lean, their unwasted and joyfull motion. So, yes, let’s make them change that. Reminds me of a poem (sorry, it has the F word in it)

    They fuck you up, your mom and dad.

    They do not mean to, but they do.

    They fill you with the faults they had,

    And add some extra, just for you.

  4. Rick
    May 6, 2012

    This is a great post Jason!

    I hope parents don’t take this Dr. seriously.

    In order to develop the arch in the lower back and the normal curve in the neck, a young child has to challenge muscles with various levers, body mass and gravity early on, e.g., Tummy Time. Then, the child gets to their feet, and slowly learns to control their center of mass. While the child is taking on this new challenge of being in an upright posture and bipedal, they are also developing the three arches throughout the foot. The child does not have to think about it, the feet will naturally get stronger with the unique combination of dynamic motion, gravity, mass and momentum.

    As soon as the parent puts their child in a miniature version of an adult running shoe, the child starts to compensate (and adapt!), then the foot gets weaker on every step.

    I can’t think of a better time to put a young child in a minimal shoe or just encourage them to go barefoot as much as possible.

    This Dr. couldn’t be more wrong.

  5. Sam H
    May 6, 2012

    This is, by far, not the worst parenting advice. We’re talking about shoes. Not a sedentary life. Not a high fat, high processed diet. Not illegal drugs, murder or zombie fraternization. I will never rank this quote up there where you rank it. We are obviously two different people with two different experiences (ain’t America great?).

    It often seems to me that the barefoot/minimalist movement is an suburban American issue only. I suppose that’s because it is. Nevermind that some children would either step on broken beer bottles or syringes when they walk and play in their neighborhood. Should those children’s parents concern themselves with minimalist shoes?

    • Bare Lee
      May 7, 2012

      Sam the problem is greater than you think. People in their 40s and 50s are having knee- and hip-replacements in record numbers (including two friends who still think I’m crazy). People are being maimed. Old folks shuffle in their orthotics. Toddlers at my daughter’s day care can barely walk in their clunky casts. And if you’re neighborhood’s full of trash, find time on Saturday to clean up your street and make it safe for your kids to play on for Crissakes. It’s not that hard.

      • Jason
        May 7, 2012

        +1.

      • Sam H.
        May 8, 2012

        Fair enough. I wasn’t speaking toward trash but the deeper issues of what I percieve to be inner city life for some (drug/alcohol addiction, prostitution, human trafficking, physical/emotional abuse). For the record my neighborhood is really great and clean and very safe and am very grateful.

        For my own education tell me why are the aforementioned people recieving hip/knee replacements? Could it because they are just a little more brittle or had a different diet or had different genes or poor posture etc… You understand my point. I don’t doubt that some could be linked to motion control shoes but (with out doing the research) I’m betting that there are multiple factors. If you have the energy, study that and don’t assume that. In the mean time it just sounds like anecdotal evidence.

        Do the old folks that shuffle in orthotics also shuffle with out them? Did their bodies break down because of motion control shoes? Is the suggestion that if they go barefoot that most, if not all, of the “old person” orthotic related maladies would be remedied?

        I don’t type this to be contradictory. I’m serious. Tell me. Prove it to me and others. Make the general populous care. I primarily follow Mr. Robillard’s and Pete Larson’s blog for a reason. I’ve learned a lot from both of them. That being said, the motion control shoe vs. minimalist shoe argument still seems very minor when compared to other issues of the 21st century.

        • Bare Lee
          May 8, 2012

          Sam, you’re right, it’s all anecdotal. I know of no study proving that the advent of so many people greatly immobilizing their feet from an early age has directly contributed to the rise of knee- and hip-replacement surgeries some 30-40 years later. Obviously, also, the technology for successfully performing these surgeries has improved as well, and perhaps there may even be a greater ulterior motive in performing them more often and at a younger age, I dunno.

          And yes, I can’t prove that old people on average used to have fewer problems with their gaits, but that’s how I’m remembering it. I see people in late middle-age even who can barely walk now. Of course, this is also tied to wider health issues like diet, exercise, and obesity, but I do believe walking and running and standing properly play an important part in our overall health. And there’s lots of anecdotal evidence from people who found almost immediate relief from their ailments once they lost the shoes or greatly reduced them. I have no idea what percentage of people could be helped this way.

          The absurdity of toddlers being unable to toddle because they have these huge shoes on is not something I’m prepared to argue either. Either you see it or you don’t. My wife even tried to put some heavyish shoes on our one-year-old son. He fell over all the time. I convinced her to put on some mocassin-like shoes when she thinks it’s too cold outside for him to walk barefoot. Now he doesn’t fall down all the time. You can switch ‘em back and forth on the same day and see the difference. I can’t prove it, but I bet he’ll benefit from having his gait and posture develop without any impediments.

          Is this the biggest problem we face? No. I agree, it’s not. But this is a barefoot running blog run by a homeless guy who drinks beer while running at high altitude after all. As I like to say, if you can’t fart in the bathroom, where can you? The little problem of a growing police state, the coming oil shocks, the financialization and gutting of our economy, and so on, are just a click or two away, when we tire of these matters.

          • Bare Lee
            May 8, 2012

            I should be clear that I’m not saying that evidence to support my anecdotal reports doesn’t exist, just that I’m not aware of it, haven’t looked into it, and don’t intend to anytime soon.

        • Jason
          May 8, 2012

          Bare Lee’s comments are spot-on. Is this doctor’s staements REALLY the worst parenting advice ever? No, I’m just using hyperbole to make a point. It’s what I do. :-)

          I think BL makes two good points- many people have used the barefoot/minimal route to move from sedentary to a more active lifestyle, which HAS positively affected their health. This is one of my most powerful motivators to continue traveling, holding clinics, and writing.

          Is the apparent disappearance of injury actually attributed to barefoot/minimalism? Anecdotal evidence says yes, but empirical evidence is still inconclusive. I encourage people to remain skeptical but cautiously self-experiment. If the concepts work for you, there’s no need to wait for conclusive scientific evidence.

          As far as kids and heavy motion-control shoes, there’s simply no need for it. Simple logic should dictate that you don’t introduce something to children that is going to alter their physical growth. Kids should wear shoes when environmental protection is needed, but those shoes should be flat and relatively flexible. The idea that little children need motion control shoes is absurd and NOT supported by a stitch of research. Hell, I’d make an argument that it’s not even supported by anecdotal evidence.

          • Bare Lee
            May 8, 2012

            Keep up the good work Jason!

            I should also mention that the moccasin-like shoes I mentioned were bought at Target for something like 7-10 dollars. They have sneaker-type patterns so they don’t stick out. The Soft Star moccasins are better quality, but also more expensive, and don’t look like regular shoes, which has been an issue for my daughter at preschool/day care. The Target moccasins are even more flexible that Walmart aqua shoes, if anyone is looking for something with basic protection and social acceptability.

  6. Peter55
    May 6, 2012

    If God wanted us to have cushioning, motion control, etc. he wouldn’t have waited for Nike.

  7. Jimmy
    May 6, 2012

    One would suppose that the right thing to do would be to send a boatload of proper brand name running shoes to the poor children in Ethiopia and Kenya…we would hate to deny them the benafits of Dr. Davidson’s advise.

  8. Adam Lawrence
    May 6, 2012

    When I was a kid, I spent all of my free time running around the backyard barefoot, as did my siblings. There was no theory to this. My parents did not disavow shoes. It was just obviously what my feet wanted to do. I recall getting stung in the foot a couple of times by bees that I stepped on in the tall grass, but that’s it for injuries. And the pain was never enough to compell me to put shoes on.

  9. Janice Nicholls
    May 6, 2012

    I can’t believe a doctor would give such poor advice. I have two daughters age 11 and 13. They have been running in Vibrams for three years now, ever since I started running minimalist/barefoot. My oldest daughter was always a beautiful runner — nice form, no issues. My youngest was awkward — a heel-striker and very slow. When my youngest switched to Vibrams, it took about 2 outings to change her form. In a short time, she knocked 5 minutes off her fastest 5km race. She’s run 10km distances a couple of times and very often wins either her age group or overall female. She runs trail sometimes in Vibrams and sometimes in Merrell Pace Gloves. She is now a graceful runner with no issues. Last year, she did her speech at school on barefoot running. She’s thinking of doing her science fair project on it this coming year. I encourage both of my girls to go barefoot whenever they want. I’ve seen them walking to school carrying their shoes and my oldest has been playing soccer-baseball at recess on the schoolyard barefoot.

    Simply said, doctor’s who don’t recognize the benefits, especially to children, of going barefoot are wrong. That’s the best way for children to develop strong, healthy feet.

  10. Bare Lee
    May 6, 2012

    It doesn’t take much to become a doctor–you just have to memorize stuff basically. At the University of Chicago we don’t even use the title “Dr.” because we don’t want to be confused with medical doctor, mere consumers of other people’s research.

    Plus, I earned money as a grad student proctoring exams, and the med students were the biggest cheaters, and required the most stringent security protocols for their entrance exams. The worst were the anesthesiologists; we had to thumb print those guys, have two forms of ID, and change their seats after lunch break.

    Don’t expect a doctor to necessarily be creative or open to new ideas or to have kept up on the latest research or even be disinterested if there’s money at stake. If you get a bonehead, switch. There are plenty of good ones out there.

  11. Brian G
    May 6, 2012

    The goal of any physical therapist is to restore the body’s ability for natural movement and function by strengthening weaknesses and increasing mobility and range of motion. That is true for the hip girdle, shoulders, back, knees — basically anywhere in the body.

    Except the foot.

    For the foot the usual answer seems to be to apply semi-permanent orthotics, an external mechanical device, to “fix” problems. The foot is made up of the same bones, ligaments, tendons, and other structures as all other parts of the body mentioned above, yet the usual recommended procedure applied to the foot seems to be the EXACT OPPOSITE of anywhere else in the body. This “demarcation line” of treatment is just below the ankle.

    WHY?!? Where does this dichotomy in recommended practices come from? Is it taught as some sort of fundamental, unquestioned principle early and often throughout physician’s medical training with its validity forever after never questioned? What makes the foot so unique and different?

    It’s really bizarre.

    • Bare Lee
      May 6, 2012

      It really is bizarre isn’t it Brian G.? Yesterday we were out at St. Paul’s “Festival of Nations.” Half the people there could barely walk. They’ve been semi-cripled and have horrible posture. It’s like they all suffered the debilitating effects of some childhood disease. Thankfully I’ve won the argument with my wife, and she found some really good minimalist leather shoes for our toddler son at Target, and is letting him play barefoot in the yard. Our daughter starts Kindergarten this fall though, so I’m a bit apprehensive about potential shodful confrontations there.

  12. Sheel K.
    May 5, 2012

    Thats ridiculous!!!!!! I am a fifteen year old minimalist runner (I like barefoot, but my parents rarely let me do so, So I sneak out without shoes)

    Doctor. Let me give you two examples of what you’re promoting, and then two examples of what you’re against.

    First, what you’re promoting.

    Many Indians in my community are.. well… unhealthy. I know of one man who supports natural running, yet his son wears zigtechs (I get kind of annoyed to see those). His son is overweight, plays two/three sports, has lots of videogames, gets stuffed with food (his parents do it, not him)… and he can’t climb a fence or obstruction that’s at his chest level. I find that disturbing, He’s like eight and he can’t climb a fence at chest level (my benchmark for how fit a kid is) :( I think if his parents took a more minimalist approach to his son’s footwear. He might be better at athletics, keep his weight in check, and be able to play like any kid his age should. Also I think that this affects behavior too (he talks so much I almost go mad).

    Another kid in the community is thin, but that’s because he is very sickly. I once tried to explore with him, I let him tag along. I think we jogged for two min. and he was tired. He can’t really do sports because he doesn’t have the stamina. He can’t climb the fence very well either…

    Now Doctor, lets see two examples of kids who go mostly barefoot or at least like it a lot

    This one girl I know is awesome. She’s 7 or eight, but she’s awesome. She loves to move around and spends most of her time with me barefoot or in thin sandals. She can easily climb the fence. Heck, she can carry me on her back for two seconds!!! She’s eight and 80 pounds, and I’m 15 and 113 pounds!! She has more stamina and skill than the boys two or three years older than her. And she likes to run around with me and do stuff. She enjoys exercising in a movnat way! The boys mostly stick to their D.S’s This girl is really, really fit, and she has fit feet to add to that.

    There is another girl (I’m the only guy who is actively minimalist). She’s 5. I was playing with her today. She is very naughty, trying to shove me off one fence I was sitting on and tricking me. She’s good at moving though. She shimmy’s across a set of rails barefoot really fast. I saw her climb the “fence” I’ve been talking about. It was above her head, yet she went, got up and over in two seconds like a tracuer. She was barefoot the entire time.

    You see doctor. The kids that spend a bit more time barefoot seem to me to be much fitter than older boys who are shod.

  13. Michael Blanchard
    May 5, 2012

    Completely agree with you. And really wish there were some less expensive minimalist shoes for kids. Spending $60 or more per pair of shoes they’ll outgrow in 6 months or less is tough to swallow. Plus, they don’t light up or have Buzz Lightyear on them. Here’s hoping the explosion of minimalist shoe options for adults migrates quickly into the children’s shoe market, before my kids are too old to benefit.

    • Jason
      May 5, 2012

      While the minimalist shoes on the market are excellent (Vibram, New Balance, Merrell, etc.), we’ve found a lot of other options in unlikely places. Payless usually has some unknown brand shoes that are flat and flexible. Other places like Walmart and Target usually has at least one or two options, all dirt cheap. Our kids use flip-flops a lot, which can be bought for under $5. The shoes definitely do not have to be expensive.

      • Fitz
        May 5, 2012

        I hear you guys. The options are $5 crap from Walmart or $60 from merrell or vivo or something. It is a tough call. The middle of the road stuff is hard to judge or there is no data on it. I am fortunate to be able to afford the costlier options but I hope this becomes the standard and costs come down. My oldest turns 5 Wednesday and he’s getting some Merrells (we watched your video while picking a color – great stuff btw!). I am excited for him and hope they work out.

        • Jason
          May 5, 2012

          Jeff G. offered a suggestion I forgot to mention- water shoes. They don’t last too long, but make EXCELLENT minimalist shoes for kids.

      • Tim
        May 6, 2012

        Crocs and Vans classic slip ons split the middle on cost. They aren’t ‘barefoot’ minimal but they are pretty flat and allow the toes to have space when shoes must be worn. Both my girls live primarily in those two options.

    • Janice Nicholls
      May 6, 2012

      I let mine run around barefoot whenever they want. I did invest in Vibrams for them & both are already into their 2nd pair, mostly because they wear them out as well as out grow them. I also buy multiple pairs of flip flops for my whole family. Just basic Old Navy flat ones. We keep them in cars and in the house and throw them on as needed. They’re pretty minimalist! I saw my youngest daughter run 800m in a pair once:)

  14. Ahcuah
    May 5, 2012

    Hey, but look at it from Dr. Davidson’s point of view:

    He’s just been guaranteed a customer for life!

  15. Rob S
    May 5, 2012

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5RInqy0wOo Cool vid of kids being hardwired to run with correct form!

    • Dave Goulette
      May 5, 2012

      Cool vid. Thanks.

    • Bare Lee
      May 7, 2012

      Yah, nice video Rob, and beautiful form (to the extent I understand it …).

  16. Rob S
    May 5, 2012

    I often tell people to watch a child run as they have natural form. My concern came when I saw a pic of my daughters running with me and one was heel striking in her fat heeled shoes. We are barefoot when at home, and lots of flip flops in the summer, but what should we as parents be looking at for our kids to wear when they want to run? I find it near absurd to spend $100 on a pair of minimalist shoes that will be outgrown in a few months.

    • Jason
      May 5, 2012

      Great points, Rob! And thanks for the vid above!

  17. Mauro
    May 5, 2012

    An answer from Italy, below:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiderm/6004270745/in/photostream/

    Ciao!

  18. Jeff Gallup
    May 5, 2012

    You are right on Jason… That is just nuts. Compounded by the fact that our health care system is so anti-preventative. We are lucky to have found a great doctor that is focused on functional medicine.. if he does his job right, he won’t have any patients! But there is so much to be said for treating immediate symptoms when you have to, but the focus needs to be on the root cause. But our system doesn’t want to support better eating, sleeping, and preventative measures like exercise..

    As for the kids, we put our boys into comfortable water shoes that they really liked for the running club they joined.. guess that puts us on the #1 wanted list for bad parenting!

    Thanks as always for the great posts..

    Jeff

  19. Markthetrigeek
    May 5, 2012

    Sorry, did a person with lots of letters after his name with heavy lobbying ties to almost every major shoe maker say something that benefits the previously mentioned makers? Sorry as a father of two boys, I must have been to busy have my kids take their shoes off. ;-)