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Foot soldier Johannesburg podiatrist Anette Thompson is on a mission to improve the comfort and fit of women's footwear in South Africa - and that means measuring hundreds of feet. She spoke to Lindsay Ord
Pointed toes, killer heels, thick platforms, toe-scrunching sandals - the shoes women totter about in, often in discomfort and pain in the name of high fashion, are causing us untold foot problems. And, a few years down the line, our funky footwear could well give us crippling problems like curvature of the spine.
But many South Africans choose a sexy, sassy image over the dire warnings of foot doctors.
Now, Johannesburg podiatrist and researcher Anette Thompson is hoping to im-prove the health of our feet. She suspects that many of our problems are caused by out-dated measurements in the shoe industry that do not take into account the diversity of South African feet.
"The measurements date back to British colonial days and have been modified through trial and error to suit South Africans over the years" says Thompson.
"Plenty of studies have measured the feet of men - for the army and police force - but no database of three dimensional measurements exists to represent all South African women's feet"
Thompson says shoe manufacturers have done a good job considering the lack of data, but the time has come for them to get science on their side. She has initiated the South African Women's Foot Measurement Project, her masters and PhD research project, in which she is measuring the feet of 900 South African women.
She is in Durban this week to visit a large footwear manufacturer and she'll be back soon to measure the feet of several hundred KwaZulu-Natal women, using a three-dimensional laser scanner, as part of her countrywide measurement study.
"Shoes are meant to protect the feet and to facilitate the full function of the foot. But when the foot is in an unnatural position, other muscles are brought in to compensate for biomech-anical imbalances and this can cause problems like corns, calluses and bunions and even more severe health problems later in life. Many patients seen by podiatrists are women suffering with corns, calluses, bunions and other footwear related problems"
The roots of this project date back to Thompson's undergraduate research in which she examined the influence of barefoot walking on foot development, questioning whether the broad feet of many South Africans was attributable to their barefoot childhoods.
Interestingly, she found that foot width is genetic - many Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans people appear to share the "broad foot gene"; while women from Mediterranean heritage, as well as North Sotho and Tswana women, tend to have narrower feet, despite the fact that many go barefoot as children.
"Studies have shown that feet morphology (shape, size and proportion) are different between ethnic populations, based on genetic influences, and this means that we need to support our local industry since they are the ones making shoes that most accurately fit our population. My results so far have validated the directions that many of our manufacturers have taken; some cater for broader feet, some for narrower. Certainly, some national averages based on old British measurements appear to have changed"
Thompson is concerned about imports from the Far East that are better suited to the proportions of narrowfooted Eastern populations.
"Imported shoes are based on another population's foot morphology, and can be harmful to your health. The shoe may be the correct length, but the in-ternal proportions may be in-correct for your foot. A tight blouse may not harm you, but wearing incorrect shoes can, with time, permanently deform your feet.
"Fortunately, as per the Government Gazette of Septem-ber 23 last year and as from the end of May this year, it is now law that all shoes and clothing sold in South Africa carry a label telling us where they were made. So South African women can make an informed choice and choose South African shoes"
The project is being sponsored by the University of Johannesburg's research fund, the Department of Trade and Industry through their THRIP programme and through the SA footwear industry itself, via the SA Footwear and Leather Industries Association, which represents some 80 shoe factor-ies throughout South Africa and, in particular, the makers of Froggie Shoes.
Once the project is complete, details of sizing etc. and advice will be made available on the national website for podiatry, as the South African Podiatry Association supports South African shoe manufacturers (www.podiatrist.co.za).
Mankgabane Morwape: As a South African Podiatrist, Iam very proud of Annete's work.This work will make shoe designers and manufacturers realize that feet sizes differ in length and width and according to different ethnic groups.
Can you imagine! I went to buy a pair of shoes, the sales lady said to me: "buy a smaller size because shoes from our shop are a soft leather, they will get big and fit you correctly after few weeks". That pair is still small today, why? It is a small size, we'll never have narrow feet like italians do.
Imagine a school kid with high depth shoes that knock the malleoli as he/she walks. later in the day shoes held in hands and having abrasion on the ankles.
I see lots of patients with bunions, overriding & underriding toes, dorsal H/K's and corns due to narrow italian made footwear.
I hope SA people can see that difference & do something about this.
I fully suppport Anette's movement : Barefoot technology shoes a way to go
thanks for also putting podiaty profession on the map
Last edited by mokgatle : 20th June 2011 at 01:20 PM.
Reason: spelling mistake