Footsek: barefoot SA kids have the jump on Germans
Barefoot South African children are better at balancing and jumping than their colder counterparts, tests show
Children who spend most of their time barefoot are better at jumping and balancing, according to research in the Western Cape and Germany.
Now Ranel Venter, from the sports science department at Stellenbosch University, and her colleagues are urging parents to allow their children to do regular barefoot physical activities to improve their motor skills.
The scientists put 810 children through balance, long-jump and sprint tests. Almost half the children were from SA, and had grown up barefoot, and the rest were from northern Germany, where the average temperature for three months in winter is 5°C and people wear shoes most of the time.
Habitually barefoot children scored higher in the balance and jumping tests, most strikingly if they were aged between six and 10. The children who were normally barefoot performed better when they were not wearing shoes.In the sprint test, children who habitually wore shoes performed better, according to findings published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics.
Lead researcher Astrid Zech, of the University of Jena in Germany, said the results of the study — believed to be the first of its kind — may have been influenced by the environment of the tests.
“In South Africa, the sprint test took place outdoors, with different weather conditions and surfaces. In contrast, the German children took the sprint test indoors, mostly in a sports hall with a sprung floor,” she said.
“The type of shoe may also have influenced the results. South African pupils run in school shoes, while German pupils use sneakers or athletic shoes in their physical education classes.”
Zech said it was likely that footwear habits influenced the musculoskeletal architecture of the foot, which in turn may be associated with motor performance.
“Another possible reason for the differences in motor skills between both populations may be different adaptations of muscle strength to regular physical activities with or without footwear.
“South African children walk barefoot most time of the day whereas German children are obligated to wear shoes at least during school time.”
How the children were tested
Balance: Participants walked backwards on balance beams 6cm, 4.5cm and 3cm wide. Successful steps were counted. The test finished if balance was lost and one foot touched the ground or a maximum of eight steps was achieved. While balancing, the children were asked to look straight ahead at a fixed point placed on the wall at eye level.
Jump: Participants stood behind a line and jumped forward as far as they could. They performed the test three times and their best result was used.
Sprint: A flying 20m test (which does not measure the running time from the starting point, but midway) used a magnetic sensor system to record times.