(CBS News) Skechers USA, Inc. is finding itself in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after the government agency determined that claims about the company's "toning shoes" were false.
You may have seen the advertisements in question for Skechers' "toning shoes," which include Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups, and claim added health benefits. The curved shape of the sole supposedly made the wearer exert extra physical effort, which in turn toned muscles, improved posture and led to weight loss.
According to the lawsuit, toning shoe sales increased from $17 million in 2008 to approximately $145 million in 2009. Toning shoes sales peaked in 2011, with sales reaching $1 billion. Skechers toning shoes retailed for $60 to $100 a pair. Shape-up fitness shoes, which Skechers introduced in April 2009, cost consumers about $100 a pair.
The FTC is claiming that the reported studies that Skechers used in advertisements that proved heath benefits from wearing the shoes were flawed and false. Two of the four supposed studies that proved Shape-ups were good for you were conducted by chiropractor Dr. Steven Gautreau, who was married to a senior vice president of marketing at Skechers, a potential conflict of interest, the FTC said.
Gautreau's first study, in which eight people reportedly lost on average 3.25 pounds when using the Shape-up shoes, didn't have a control group who wore standard fitness shoes to serve as a comparison.
The second study of 80 patients -while having a control group - had flawed data that were "altered and complete," besides other defects. While the subjects were shown to lose 2.78 pounds compared to the 0.30 pounds by controls and reduced body fat by 1.31 percent compared to 0.57 percent from the control group, some of the subjects wearing Shape-ups actually gained weight but were reported as losing weight. Two people in the control group who had lost weight were incorrectly attributed to the Shape-up group, and data was missing or not collected for some of the participants. Also, several of the participants happened to be related or connected to Gautreau.
The study that showed the reported health benefits when using the Resistance Runner shoes - which included an 85 percent increase in postural muscle activation and a 71 percent increase in gluteus maximus muscle activation - was only derived from a one-day study in one test subject.
The FTC also found fault with the company's decision to use the studies' claims in the advertising, including Kim Kardashian's Super Bowl 2011 ad in which she said she quit using her trainer because the Shape-up shoes were so effective, the press release said.
"The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health," David Vladeck,director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the statement. "The FTC's message, for Skechers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims."
Skechers however says it disputes the charges and agreed to a settlement because of the legal costs of fighting the lawsuits. The company will also pursue additional studies.
"The Company fully stands behind its toning shoe products and technology and is permitted under the settlement to continue to advertise that wearing rocker-bottom shoes like Shape-ups can lead to increased leg muscle activation, increased calorie burn, improved posture and reduced back pain," Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers, said in a company statement.
People who purchased the shoes will be eligible for a refund directly from the FTC or a court-approved class action lawsuit.