Soles4Souls is another one of the those shoe charities founded by the president of, you guessed it, a shoe company. What prompts me to write this today is one of their fundraising efforts in which they have enlisted the help of the American Association for Nude Recreation.
First of all, on the fundraising page, the name of this particular campaign is “Bare from the Toes Up”. This is a bit annoying, since if you’ve ever been to a nudist resort, you will see a large proportion of the guests wearing shoes. If you are shod, you are not nude. Nudists buy into the usual barefoot myths just like so many others.
But my real gripe is what is said on that page about why it is so
necessary to donate shoes for the Soles4Souls cause.
DID YOU KNOW…
There are currently more than 300 million children worldwide who don’t own a single pair of shoes? While we often enjoy the feel of fresh-cut grass or warm sand beneath our bare feet, in many countries, children aren’t given the option. They are forced to walk barefoot on rocky, rough, littered, and dangerous terrain, and the simple gift of shoes can provide much-needed protection from cuts, wounds, infections, and the transmission of disease. In fact,
55% of all world diseases can be prevented with proper sanitation and footwear!
Walking barefoot on rocky, rough terrain is only a problem if you’ve let your feet atrophy which putting them in shoes will do. Then, when the shoes wear out, if you don’t have a new supply, your feet that used to be able to handle the terrain really will have a problem. If you’ve spent your life with your feet coddled by shoes, you are like a couch potato who cannot walk even a mile.
But that last statement is the most annoying. How true is it to say that, “55% of all world diseases can be prevented with proper sanitation and footwear?” As far as I can tell, not at all. Or if it is true, it is only because of a clever conflation of unrelated items.
The World Health Organization keeps track of these sorts of things. They put out a report on the Global Burden of Disease, and around 60% of world deaths are from noncommunicable diseases (see Part 2, page 10).
Okay, well, what about within infectious diseases, and let’s not look at whether it kills you or not? WHO has analyzed that using a measure called “Disability Adjusted Life Years”. This gives a decent look at just how much burden each disease inflicts on humanity. You can see the results at their Infectious Diseases Report Graph 7. Here’s a list of the top six:
- Acute respiratory infections
- Diarrhoeal diseases
The only one of those that can be prevented by “proper sanitation” is diarrhoeal diseases (and, yes, it is a big problem). But that diarrhea is from drinking contaminated water, not from going shoeless. I just cannot see how it can be claimed that “55% of all world diseases can be prevented with proper sanitation and footwear.”
There is another trick in that statement. They conflate a very large item with a very small item, in order to prop up the small item. It is like somebody saying,
90% of daylight comes from the sun and flashlights.
The use of “and” makes it technically correct, but horribly misleading. Yes, flashlights can give light during the day, but to credit them, or even mention them in the same sentence just doesn’t work.
There is one thing that shoes do protect against that is in the WHO report: hookworm. And hookworm is mentioned on a different Soles4Souls page, Why shoes?:
In addition to infections brought on by external injuries, a child’s bare foot is particularly at risk of infection by hookworm. Especially at risk are children living in African and Southeast Asian countries, where hookworm infections are about 60 times more common.
Where do hookworm and other intestinal nematodes fit into the “Disability Adjusted Life Years”? According to that WHO report, it is 4013 (check the report for the definition). TB is there at 34217, and diarrhoeal diseases at 72777. So, despite the lower numbers, is hookworm a problem? Yes. Should we sneer at it? No. Are shoes the answer? Well, they can be. In the American South, shoes did help with hookworm, but the real solution was to have people stop crapping on the ground where they walk. Even decent privies eliminate the spread of hookworm. More importantly, they also remove a huge source of the diarrhoeal diseases that really are a problem.
I’m sure these people’s hearts are in the right place. But they are making emotional appeals on what looks easy and wasting resources that could be better spent on remedies that really are effective. And I think folks need to be called out on this. Why not do what is effective instead of what just feels good? That’s where your charity money ought to be put.