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Consumer's Edge: Cheaper routes to health than Skechers Shape-ups

Tight buns. Toned, well-defined legs. Firm abs.

Get it all, Skechers says, with the Shape-ups walking shoe.

But wait, there's more: strengthen cardiovascular health, improve blood circulation, lose weight, reduce cellulite — all without having to run or even jog. Just walk around in a pair of Skechers Shape-ups.

Wow! Well, not so fast.

Critics say Skechers stepped out of bounds by overstating the benefits of its shoes (a condition the Consumer's Edge refers to as Health Benefit Hyperbole or HBH).

The latest complaint comes from Venus Morga, a resident of California, who filed a class-action lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in San Diego against Skechers. She filed the suit on behalf of all Americans who tried the Shape-ups and didn't realize the athletic or model-like physique suggested by the ads.

Her complaint notes that the "unique kinetic wedge," as described by Skechers, "is essentially a piece of foam. … Skechers knew or should have known Shape-ups do not provide any of these purported benefits in any greater degree than an ordinary shoe."

But the popularity of Skechers Shape-ups has given rise to toning tennis shoes of other brands, including New Balance, Avia and others.

These shoes don't run cheap. At Bealls in St. Petersburg, Skechers Shape-ups run from $89.98 to $114.98 for women's and men's styles. Online, they can cost as much $150. For those who haven't seen them (they're hard to miss), they look like armored tanks for your feet.

Skechers argues the company's studies have proven its claims: "On Aug. 10, 2010, the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority ruled that 'the claims in the (Shape-ups) advertisement regarding muscle tone, posture and weight loss had been substantiated by (Skechers) and therefore were not likely to mislead or deceive consumers.'"

It says the shoe's success is its own evidence.

"Shape-ups advertising claims are substantiated by solid scientific testing, but the best substantiation is the sheer popularity of the shoe," Leonard Amato, president of Skechers Fitness Division, said in a statement responding to Morga's suit.

(Indeed, Skechers reported $1 billion in net sales during the first six months of this year).

"Skechers has received literally thousands of unsolicited testimonials from customers praising Shape-ups and saying that they received the benefits claimed."

Perhaps, but I posed the question about Shape-ups and other toning shoes to a fitness expert and a foot doctor.

To varying degrees, they agreed the shoes could help … a little. But don't expect miracles.

"In theory, over the long haul, you may burn a few more calories," said Dr. Jeff Kopelman, a St. Petersburg podiatrist. "There's definitely nothing magical to help you lose weight."

He says the shoe's curved, boatlike structure is "almost designed to throw you out of balance." Trying to get back in balance makes your muscles work harder and therefore can theoretically tone your body, he said.

Kopelman tells his patients just to get a basic running shoe.

Julie Ryczek, a Pinellas County educator and member of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, says rather than buying a $100 shoe, consumers could do just as well wearing light ankle weights as she does while doing work around the house.

The real key is diet and exercise, she says.

"Unless you change your diet and what you eat, it's going to be difficult to lose weight," Ryczek said.

And diet must be coupled with exercise that burns enough calories, whether with a "toning shoe" or other tool, she said.

"Calories in, calories out," Ryczek said. "It's common sense. It's portion control."

So here's the Edge:

• Design a healthy diet. Fact is you're going to spend money on food. You'll save money by picking foods that are healthier for you instead of too many processed foods plus $150 toning shoes. The darker the bread you eat the better.

• Limit portions. If the can says five servings, you should not have all five portions in one sitting by yourself. "We grab a can and say, 'Hey, I'm going to eat the whole can,'" Ryczek said.

• Burn calories. Successful weight loss requires drinking water, proper diet and exercise.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Consumer's Edge: Cheaper routes to health than Skechers Shape-ups 08/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 2:14am]

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