Do Barefoot Shoes Improve Kids' Foot Development?

Do Barefoot Shoes Improve Kids' Foot Development?

A recent scientific research study of elementary aged school children wearing Softstar shoes shows that minimalist shoes increase foot muscle growth in kids. It is the first scientific study focusing exclusively on children’s foot development, and the results are consistent with existing research that until now has focused mainly on adults. While kids are inarguably the biggest fans of being barefoot, they now have their first piece of scientific evidence that their natural instincts are, in fact, best for growing feet.

The Study

The 2023 research was conducted by scientists from the University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, and the University of South Florida[1]. The study looked at children aged 8-12 attending a private school in Sydney where black dress shoes were required by uniform. The researchers wanted the most barefoot-like shoes which would meet the approval of the school dress code. They found that our Primal RunAmocs met this criteria. Based on the Minimal Index scale, the Primal RunAmocs were given a rating of 94%, where 100% represents the highest degree of minimalism. 

The minimalist rating is a standardized research index to compare footwear. It considers the weight, stack height, heel-to-doe-drop, use of stability/motion control technologies and flexibility of each shoe. Most minimal shoe brands are moderately ranked in the 40-70% rating range. Softstar shoes are among the most minimalist shoes available, closer to protective leather gloves than traditional footwear.

Impact on Foot Development

After eight months of wearing the Primal RunAmocs during school hours, researchers found statistically significant increases in flexor digitorum brevis (FDB) muscle size in the group that wore Softstar Shoes compared to the control group. FDB muscles are the large muscle belly on the bottom of the feet in charge of toe flexion as well as stabilizing and supporting the foot during movement. Choosing well-fitting minimalist shoes over padded, inflexible footwear is an important way to help children’s feet develop muscle size even while doing more sedentary activities like being in school.

Parents are always looking for the latest edge to help their children thrive. While most emphasis is put on nutrition, sleep habits and exercise, sometimes it's easy to miss the low hanging fruit, like choosing healthier footwear. Feet are the foundation of our amazing and complex muscular and skeletal systems. Improving foot development in childhood can not only prevent long-term problems but can give kids immediate improvements in muscle structure. Read the full study here.

Also of equal health importance, we recommend ensuring your kids have enough space for their feet which can be tricky when children’s feet seem to grow overnight! Check your kids’ shoe fit every 6–8 weeks to ensure they still have plenty of room. When it is time to size up, steer towards the most barefoot-like, breathable footwear in your budget. Visit our Growing Feet page to learned about additional kids barefoot research on developing healthy children's feet

[1] Roy T.H. Cheung, Shayan Quinlan, Alycia Fong-Yan and Irene S. Davis.  Softstar, Western Sydney University (Australia), The University of Sydney (Australia), University of South Florida (USA) research collaboration report. (2 February 2023)

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