News broke yesterday about Sketchers settling charges against them from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $40 million. The FTC claims the company “deceived consumers by making unfounded claims that Shape-ups would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles”.
Now, if you’ve ever seen Shape-ups shoes, you might think they would look good with a nice pair of slacks (I’m using slacks as an out-dated term from the 80’s). I personally would never buy shoes that look like that even if the company claimed it would tone 100 different muscles, and I wear athletic-looking shoes (I even have a different pair of Sketchers!) almost every day. I apologize to any of my friends or family who bought these shoes (Amy) but they just didn’t do it for me.
Aesthetics aside, Sketchers made false claims about Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners, and Tone-ups shoes. Just the names are enough to get a person excited (good marketing!), but telling consumers they will perform miracles such as losing weight (without changing your lifestyle) and falsifying clinical study data is just stupid. Great marketing always puts a shine on products, but you still “can’t polish a turd”. (No matter what the Mythbusters say).
There will never be a miracle pill (or shoe) that will make you lose weight, get in shape, and tone your muscles without any effort from you. The human body is an amazing organism and if you treat yours right, it will reward you. There are so many complicated systems at work inside your body that scientists working on a ‘miracle weight loss pill’ are discovering that there may not be such a thing. I think the best story about finding an ‘obesity cure’ begins back in the 1950’s. A company that breeds new animal strains for scientific research, Jackson Laboratories, discovered a strain of mice that was constantly feeding, lethargic, and obese. These mice could not get enough food and would eat until they couldn’t move. (The blob on the right is one of those mice).
When molecular biology and DNA genotyping finally caught up in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, Dr. Rudy Leibel, and their colleagues discovered that this mouse strain, named ob/ob (due to its obesity) had a mutation in a hormone called leptin. They gave these obese mice leptin, and amazingly they stopped constantly eating and lost weight. The miracle drug was found! Even the name leptin was derived from the Greek word leptós, or thin. Clinical leptin trials began…and ended…because people were not losing weight. The problem was, most obese people are not obese because they have low levels of leptin. Turns out, this hormone is made by your fat cells, or adipocytes. The adipocytes secrete leptin into the blood stream, where it travels to your brain, finds the leptin receptors, and basically says, “hey, you, stop eating.” So what do obese people have? Lots and lots of leptin circulating in their blood from all of their adipocytes secreting the hormone. Many obese people have leptin resistance, which means their brain cannot use the leptin signals they are receiving to tell you to stop eating. So giving these people more leptin makes no difference. This research did help some people who have similar mutations to the ob/ob mice or those that actually have a deficiency in leptin production. However, for the majority of obese people, it could not help them.
The human body is great at adapting to its environment and working to survive. If you help it along a little, you might be surprised at what it can do. Don’t look for a magic pill or a magic shoe. They just don’t exist. So instead of buying these shoes and waiting for your calves to be toned while walking a block to your car, put on real sneakers and walk a little faster and a little farther, and then you may see some results.