Doctors at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York recently warned against the dangers of flip-flops because they change how people walk, offer little arch support, and virtually no shock absorption. That news, taken together with a recent study from the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, shows that people should be taking better care of their feet by wearing both socks and shoes that fit properly and provide adequate support and padding.
A staggering 78 percent of U.S. adults age 21 and older report they have had one or more problems with their feet at some time in their lives, according to The National Foot Health Assessment 2012, a survey conducted for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health (IPFH) by The NPD Group. The most common foot maladies, plaguing both men and women, were ankle sprains (reported by roughly 1-in-3 respondents), followed by blisters, calluses, foot fatigue, cracked skin, and athlete's foot.
The study revealed discouraging news for those affected by the American obesity epidemic. Foot health is negatively related to body mass index (BMI), creating a conundrum for overweight adults attempting to become more active and healthy. The "very overweight" (BMI 30.0 and higher) were 51 percent more likely to rate their foot health as fair/poor and more likely to currently be experiencing a foot issue (41 percent) or a high level (7-10 on a scale of 10) of foot pain (16 percent). Additionally, 32 percent of these adults were less active in fitness and sports activities than respondents who were not very overweight.
"People should be taking care of their feet and can do so relatively easily by keeping them comfortable, dry, and free of friction," says IPFH executive director Robert (Bob) Thompson, C. Ped. "We advocate that consumers follow an 'integrated approach' to help prevent injury to the skin and soft tissue(s) of the foot. The approach involves first selecting a padded sock to be worn with new shoes and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional. Fitting footwear this way helps ensure that feet don't slip and slide in the shoe and toes aren't pinched together, a precursor to lesions. Yet, we found that only 18 percent of adults report having had their feet measured with a Brannock device, the best way to get accurate sizing. In addition, only 7 percent reported having their walking gait analyzed. Gait analysis is important in identifying physical and biomechanical issues that can develop into longer term problems."
Further, people with feet at risk are not getting the help they need to prevent potentially serious consequences from a foot issue. Fewer than half (46 percent) of people with diabetes reported seeing a doctor for regular foot screenings. Only 20 percent had even been told that they were at risk for foot-related complications, and only 11 percent said they had their feet properly measured and fitted every time they bought new shoes.
The implications of the findings for those with poor foot health are especially serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011), more than 60 percent of nontraumatic lower limb amputations occur in people with diabetes. In 2009, about 68,000 nontraumatic lower limb amputations were performed in people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2007 (latest available data), the treatment of diabetes and its complications in the U.S. generated at least $116 billion in direct costs; at least one third of those costs were linked to the treatment of foot ulcers.
"People with diabetes or any other medical condition that compromises blood flow to the lower extremities are at heightened risk for foot ulcers and foot amputations," warned IPFH Scientific Advisory Board member Terrence P. Sheehan, MD. "These data are alarming and highlight the need for foot health awareness among all health care professionals. Getting people to take care of their feet can be a first step toward getting them moving and on the road to better overall health."
Study respondents admitted that their productivity on the job suffers when they have foot issues. Roughly half (52 percent) of adults report experiencing sore feet (occasionally to frequently) after working all day and another 44 percent admit it has a negative impact on their productivity.
Other key findings include the following:
- Among individuals currently experiencing foot issues, 59 percent reported having seen a specialist for their foot condition.
- More than half of adults (58 percent) reported thinning fat pads with the majority (83 percent) unaware that the fat pad wears away with age.
- Running or jogging, hiking, basketball, fitness walking, and dancing are the top five activities producing sore, achy feet and/or blisters as a result of participating in the activity.
- Even leisure activities such as shopping produced sore feet in nearly half of adults (46 percent). Of these, over half (55 percent) said it occasionally impacted their enjoyment of their leisure activities.
- Individuals age 50 and older, who are currently experiencing foot issues, are significantly more likely than their younger counterparts to visit a physician for foot issues. They are also more likely than 21- to 34-year-olds to have foot issues or foot pain and to say their foot conditions affect their walking and quality of life.
- Women seem to have more foot ailments than men and are significantly more likely than men to report having calluses, foot fatigue, cracked skin, ingrown toenails, blisters, swelling, plantar fasciitis, and corns.
The NPD Group gathered the data for The National Foot Health Assessment 2012 from a nationally statistically representative sample of adults age 21 and older with a sample size of 1,456 individuals. The current survey is the second of its kind. The first National Foot Health Assessment was published in 2009.
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