For POLOLO, Nina Massek conducted an interview with Dr. Wieland Kinz from the children’s feet-children’s shoes research team:

What damage to health can be caused by shoes that are too short on children’s feet?

Dr. Kinz: Together with the University of Vienna, we proved this for the first time in 2009, because before that there was only conjecture: Shoes that are too short lead to an altered “big toe angle”. This means, especially in three- to six-year-olds, that shoes that are too short change the skeleton. Women who often wear too tight and too small, i.e. girly shoes, as children, often later develop the so-called “hallux valgus” (pathologically protruding metatarsophalangeal joint), which then has to be surgically corrected. By the way, the number of operations is exploding. That is really alarming!
If the big toe is altered in this way, it will most likely affect the entire musculoskeletal system.
Our research has also shown that the proportion of girls and boys who wear shoes that are too short is about the same between the ages of one and ten, but after that girls are doubly disadvantaged because they then wear shoes that are too narrow.

Why is it that older children are often unable to tell us when the shoe pinches, i.e. has become too small or no longer fits?

Until the age of ten, children cannot tell whether a shoe fits or not, even if a shoe is three sizes too small. This is due to habituation. The child or its foot gets used to a shoe that doesn’t fit very quickly, and this also applies to 70 percent of adults.

How fast do children’s feet actually grow? How often should the fit of children’s shoes be checked?

It’s easy to say: From the first to the third year of life, the foot grows on average 1.5 millimetres per month, from the third to the sixth year of life one millimetre, and between the sixth and tenth year of life only 0.8 millimetres. Parents should therefore check the fit of their children’s shoes every three to four months. This also means that you can pre-calculate the size when buying shoes. So when winter shoes are on offer in late summer, it makes sense!

What is the safest way to check the fit of shoes?

The good old rule of thumb for new shoes still makes sense, which is 17 millimetres of leeway. For your information: The average width of an adult thumb (tip) is 17 millimetres.
A tip from us: You can easily put the child on a cardboard and cut out a template of the foot and add 12 to 17 millimetres. Then cut out a strip two fingers wide and place it in the shoe. If the strip bends up, the shoe is too short. By the way, we have developed a practical measuring device for this, the “plus12”.

What are so-called baby’s first walkers supposed to do?

I have a problem with this term. You don’t need shoes to learn to walk! Otherwise, nature peoples wouldn’t be able to walk – and they can do it very well!

Why is barefoot walking so important? And why should you take your time until you buy your first shoes?

Walking barefoot is very important. We have to remember that sturdy or street shoes restrict up to 30 percent of joint mobility. So if I put a child into fixed shoes too early, I am not training his or her foot sufficiently and the musculature is restricted.

In kindergartens, children often only wear slippers, what do you think about that?

Our research shows that slippers are usually much too short and climatically a disaster: Due to the plastic soles and unsuitable upper materials, the children are literally standing in water in the late morning.
In kindergarten, children should have as little as possible on their feet, i.e. barefoot, stopper socks or very thin, soft and flexible slippers. As for materials, we recommend modern functional fibres – they are breathable and dry quickly – and natural materials, such as vegetable-tanned and uncoated leather, thin wool or felt.

What do you think about buying second-hand shoes?

We like to tell mothers: “Buy used shoes and don’t have a guilty conscience!” Because that makes a lot of sense from an ecological and economic point of view.
Nevertheless, you should make sure that the foot has at least twelve millimetres of clearance in the shoe and that the soles are not worn down on one side.

What is the myth about footbeds? Do children need shoes or slippers with a footbed?

This is a similarly silly concept as baby’s first walkers and mainly a marketing gimmick. Feet don’t have to lie down in a bed, but are allowed and should be stressed. Variety in footwear is much more important. Every foot is different, and for that reason alone, prefabricated footbeds make no sense.

What materials should children’s shoes be made of?

If possible, they should be made of breathable and quick-drying materials. No hiker today buys trekking shoes made of leather. But if you value leather shoes, you should look for naturally tanned and uncoated leather. “Leather” with a thick polyurethane coating does not deserve the name.

What is best for keeping warm in the cold season? Warm woollen socks? Cotton socks? Insoles? Lambskin or wool lining?

For us as adults, who often remain very static in one posture, this is often incomprehensible, but children are much more in motion and therefore hardly ever have cold feet.

Photo: Dr. Wieland Kinz (Forschungsteam Kinderfüße-Kinderschuhe)