Going barefoot has been a human tradition for millions of years, with shoes only becoming commonplace in the past few centuries. However, a recent survey has shown that young boys in different parts of the world have different shoe-wearing habits. While German children and teenagers spend most of their day in shoes, around 90% of their South African counterparts go barefoot.

While some might think that the difference is due to the economic status of the countries, the results of a recent survey challenge this assumption. Researchers gathered information on the footwear habits of 714 boys attending a secondary school in a wealthy area of Auckland, New Zealand. Surprisingly, almost half of the students (45%) spent most of their time barefoot, and some were even willing to run long distances on hard surfaces without shoes.

There are significant differences in foot structure between those who grow up barefoot and those who wear shoes. A century-old study warned about the negative effects of fashionable shoe designs that “crowd the front of the foot” and cause a narrower foot and lower arch. By contrast, those who grow up barefoot have wider feet and distribute pressure more evenly across the toes and outside edge of the foot.

Running barefoot allows for a more natural movement style, with less pressure concentrated on the heel and ball of the foot. Barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on their heel, resulting in a shorter stride and more bend at the knee. This posture helps the ankle behave more like a spring, allowing muscles to control landing and absorb force more effectively. In contrast, shoes reduce the sensation of the heel striking the ground, leading to overstriding and more force being absorbed by the heel and joints.


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The prevalence of leg pain in the New Zealand students studied was lower than in other parts of the world, suggesting that growing up barefoot may help to prevent injury. While social norms in Western countries make it challenging to go barefoot, gradually building up time spent walking and running without shoes may help. The growing availability of minimalist shoes that mimic the structure of the foot and have little cushioning could also help people transition to going barefoot.

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