What should parents look for in a pair of kids' shoes?
Tracy Byrne is a podiatrist and leading paediatric researcher. She says any good lifestyle shoe for kids – and, indeed, adults – should satisfy three criteria. ‘First is that it should be flexible: you should be able to fold it in half. ‘Second is that it should have a wide toebox, rather than a tapered one like most shoes, so your toes can splay. ‘Third is that it should be lightweight, unlike lots of children’s shoes, which can weigh about 10 per cent of their body weight.’ A heavy, bulky shoe, says Byrne, can often cause children to fall more regularly, as it dampens their proprioception [the sense we have of our body in relation to the space around us]. ‘I often have parents coming to my clinic saying their two- or three-year-old is falling over a lot. Then you have a look at the shoes their child is wearing and they weigh a tonne.’ One shoe company that satisfies Byrne’s checklist is Vivobarefoot, a brand of barely-there footwear for adults and kids. Its founder, Galahad Clark, is a seventh-generation cobbler whose ancestors founded Clarks shoes. He believes that the current children’s footwear market is doing our children a huge disservice. ‘The truth is, most kids in the Western world enter adulthood with extremely weak, deformed feet, mainly as a result of the footwear they’ve been wearing. The amount of orthotics and supportive, structured shoes worn by kids is, in my opinion, a massive public health scandal.’ It’s not that Clark believes barefoot-style shoes provide the wearer with special powers; rather, they allow the foot to function as it should. That’s particularly important, as the human foot at birth is not a miniature version of an adult foot. Not all of the foot bones are formed at birth, and many are made of tough but flexible cartilage. Over several years, this cartilage ossifies to become the 26 bones that comprise the adult foot. Therefore, it’s crucial that footwear is well chosen during the time the foot is developing. ‘You want to allow a kid’s foot to develop naturally, with as little intervention as possible,’ says Clark. ‘A kid’s foot is not fully formed until their teenage years. The bones take a long time to calcify, so it’s extremely malleable. Yet 90 per cent of kids are putting their feet into a non-foot-shaped shoes from a very early age.’