When you imagine a child who goes barefoot most of the time, what do you picture? Perhaps a child growing up in a Nairobi slum or feeding the chickens on a remote farm. Maybe a kid called River living on a hippie commune. Barefoot children have historically been poor and rural, but there’s a growing trend for parents to take off their kids’ shoes for health reasons.
Movements like Parents for Barefoot Children , the Barefoot Alliance, and the Society for Barefoot Living are all pressuring for children to go barefoot as much as possible.
Theirs might be a minority viewpoint, but they aren’t crazy. Decades of research has shown that wearing shoes has a dramatic effect on gait, and the feet of people who rarely wear shoes look strikingly different from those who wear them every day.
Medical research on children is harder than adults, because of the ethical concerns – an adult can make an informed decision about whether to take part in a medical trial, but you can’t ask a 5-year-old child do something which you think will damage their development. For that reason, we have to look at research into barefoot walking in adults, and use that to make informed guesses about how it affects children.