Reebok settles FTC case over toning shoes for $25 million

— -- The Federal Trade Commission announced a $25 million settlement with Reebok on Wednesday over what it said were unsubstantiated claims about the exercise benefits of its "toning shoes."

But the issue may not be limited to Reebok. Skechers said in a Securities & Exchange Commission filing last month that the FTC is investigating its advertising and claims about its toning sneakers. Los Angeles attorney Tina Wolfson filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status in January against New Balance, alleging its claims about the toning and calorie-burning potential of its toning shoes were false and misleading.

Toning sneakers have rounded heels and other features that purportedly require more energy for walking. Sales of toning shoes hit about $1 billion last year, the FTC said.

The FTC said Reebok made "unsupported" claims in advertisements that walking and running in its shoes strengthen and tone key leg and buttock muscles more than regular shoes. The FTC said these claims included that EasyTone shoes had been proved to lead to strength and tone improvements of: 28% in buttock muscles, 11% in hamstrings and 11% in calf muscles over regular walking shoes.

"We fully stand behind our EasyTone technology," Reebok said in a statement. "We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the continued development of our EasyTone line of products."

The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine has taken a cautious stance against toning shoes, which it says can provide benefits for some users but "may have consequences," especially for those with balance problems.

"As is typical in advertising, some manufacturers greatly overstate the benefits and do not fully disclose the risks associated with toning shoes," the group says on its website.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's complaint database has more than 20 complaints about toning shoes, including two about Reebok versions. Consumers wrote about pain and injuries including stress fractures.

Under the settlement, Reebok is barred from making any claims that its products strengthen muscles unless they are "backed by scientific evidence." Consumers who bought Reebok toning shoes or EasyTone apparel on or after Dec. 5, 2008, are eligible for refunds. More information about the settlement is at www.reeboksettlement.com/ftc.

"The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.