- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Stand tall, ladies.

High heels are no longer evil. All those towering stilettos, platforms, spikes, wedgies, pumps and ankle straps do not ruin the knees of intrepid wearers — at least according to a British medical study released yesterday.

A team of Oxford University researchers announced there was no evidence of risk that glamour-gal footwear harms feminine knees.

The reverse may be true, in fact.



“A consistent finding in the analysis was a reduced risk of osteoarthritis in association with regular high-heel usage,” says the report, published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers noted, “It is very unlikely that prolonged wearing of high-heeled shoes represents a risk factor.”

This conclusion treads heavily on conventional medical wisdom of the last 250 years or so, which has blamed high heels for sore backs, corns, sprained ankles, abnormal gait, ingrown toenails, shortened calf muscles and hammertoe.

Oxford University public-health studies professor Ray Fitzpatrick, who directed the research, dismissed such beliefs as “clinical speculation. Perhaps there was also a nonspecific belief that there’s something unnatural about high heels,” he told the London Times yesterday.

Mr. Fitzpatrick was also dismayed by how little research had been done on high heels and a health link. The London Times offered support for his findings.

“The stiletto has been redeemed by scientists eager to make themselves the toast of all womanhood,” a Times editorial noted. “High heels have an allure that men may appreciate, but cannot fully understand.”

Many women understand with ferocity: 37 percent insist on wearing high heels regardless of comfort, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.

In the meantime, some still regard high heels with suspicion.

Two Harvard Medical School studies in the past five years — which went so far as to measure the “knee torque” of high-heel wearers — linked knee arthritis and high heels.

A Medical College of Georgia investigator found that older women lost their balance 12 percent of the time when they wore high heels.

The Yale University School of Medicine Foot and Ankle Service recommends half-inch heels, while the podiatric association calls high heels “biomechanically and orthopedically unsound.”

Pish-tosh, say the Britons.

The Oxford study interviewed 111 women from 50 to 70 years old. All them reported wearing shoes with heels at least 1 inch high, 93 percent had worn 2-inch heels and 64 percent said they had worn 3-inchers.

Researchers noted: “Most of the women had been exposed to high-heeled shoes over the years. Nevertheless, a consistent finding was a reduced risk of osteoarthritis of the knee.”

Don’t fret about shoes — worry about weight, they counseled. Obesity at any age is “the single most preventable risk factor,” said Oxford’s Mr. Fitzpatrick, who said those who were overweight by 40 pounds had 36 times the risk of developing arthritis in the knee.

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