OBJECTIVES: Athletic footwear are associated with frequent injury that are thought to result from repetitive impact. No scientific data suggest they protect well. Expensive athletic shoes are deceptively advertised to safeguard well through "cushioning impact", yet account for 123% greater injury frequency than the cheapest ones. This study tested the hypothesis that deceptive advertising creates a false sense of security with users of expensive athletic shoes, inducing attenuation of impact moderating behaviour, increased impact, and injury. METHODS: Fifteen young healthy male volunteers confronted four surfaces: a bare force moment platform, and three with this platform covered by identical shoe sole material made to appear different and advertised divergently. Advertising messages suggested superior impact absorption and protection (deceptive message), poor impact absorption and high injury risk (warning message), and unknown impact absorption and safety (neutral message). Ground reaction forces were recorded for 10 barefoot footfalls, according to a protocol requiring stepping forward from perch to a surface 4.5 cm below. RESULTS: Impact varied as a function of advertising message (p < 0.001). Deceptive message equalled neutral message in eliciting higher impact than the warning message and the bare platform. Differences grew with repetitions (p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: These data provide a plausible mechanism explaining higher injury frequency in users of expensive athletic shoes. This is the first report to suggest: (1) deceptive advertising of protective devices may represent a public health hazard and may have to be eliminated presumably through regulation; (2) a tendency in humans to be less cautious when using new devices of unknown benefit because of overly positive attitudes associated with new technology and novel devices.
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