Health fads are a fascinating thing, not unlike shooting stars in many respects. They appear all of a sudden seemingly out of nowhere, burn brightly for only a short moment, then disappear just as quickly as they came.
They are also almost always not what they seem, with shooting stars not being “stars” at all, but usually meteors consisting of rocks or dust from space, and not “shooting”, but falling and burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Likewise, a lot of health fads appear all of a sudden, dazzle the many people who feel they are a special member of the “select few” who are somehow a part of them, then evaporate just as quickly. On top of that, health fads, like the barefoot fad, just as with the paleo diet, superfoods, and other such marketing gimmicks, while at first glance are apparently about health improvement, are invariably about money.
Typically, one single study is enough to set off a health fad, usually in the form of one author’s subjective interpretation of data or personal experiences that conveniently packaged in an inspirationally titled book – as can be seen with Christopher McDougall’s book in the Guardian article on the topic from 2013 – and then mainstream media reports on the findings, helping drum up support for book sales, whilst also preparing the market for all of the overpriced accessories, ingredients or equipment seen as essential to be able to jump on the bandwagon with all of the other “converted”.
Sometimes, as with barefoot running and the paleo diet, the claims of the research are fairly quickly discredited by legitimate scientific study, or when people start getting injured or sick as a result of joining the fad, but that often has little effect on the popularity of the fad, since it was originally about money, so there is a lot of economic momentum behind it that will not suddenly evaporate.
In some cases, as with the New York Times’ article about barefoot walking from just this past week, vestiges of the fad will re-emerge with some new purportedly ground-breaking scientific findings to reinvigorate the market and unleash a whole host of other exorbitantly priced accessories. So, what’s next? Barefoot walking shoes? Home callous-building machines?