How do children’s feet develop as they grow? And how do parents make the right choices to support that healthy growth?

The Podiatry Schools of Salford and Brighton have come together to help answer these questions. Dr Stewart Morrison (Brighton) and I (Professor Chris Nester, Salford) are leading research as part of our “Great Foundations” initiative, based on our belief that good foot health is the foundation for healthy living, and this starts from our first few steps.

Watch children play and you’ll realise how important feet are to their physical and social development. It’s never been more important, with reports of 30% of children being overweight or obese. Also take a moment to think about your own feet and how they have helped you today, and what the impact would be if your foot health was poor?  As Podiatrists we have the privilege of being to help many thousands of people with poor foot health keep on their feet, and keep living active lives. Feet really are Great Foundations.

We will be delivering research in two areas, the first concerns foot health knowledge and behaviour in parents and how knowledge and practices of health professionals and industry may, or may not, promote good foot health in children.  The second area is about how the physiology of feet changes as we learn to stand and walk, and thus our feet have to learn to bear load for the first time.

Why are we doing this? There are some fundamental gaps in our understanding of where parents get their knowledge on foot health, what concerns them, and how health professionals and industry might provide appropriate support. Media reports suggest a recent decline in provision of foot health for children and highlight the need to re-establish the importance of Podiatry in the care of children’s feet.  Parents use the internet for health advice and information, but the kind of advice they find there is relatively unknown. We will research what is promoted online about children’s feet and review that information in terms of its evidence base. We will also have focus groups and interviews with professional and industry to understand what informs people about children’s foot health.

We are looking at how feet physically change as we learn to walk because it will provide with the first scientific insights into the factors that might drive foot development and provide a picture of what normal development looks like.  The Salford and Brighton teams are developing “baby labs” to monitor how pressure is applied under infant feet, how the feet move, and how skin and muscles change as feet grow.

By working with parents, health professionals and industry partners the Salford and Brighton teams hopes to disseminate clear, evidence-based guidance on children’s feet and broaden our understanding to inform good foot health throughout childhood.

Our work is funded by the William M. Scholl Endowment Fund, a charity focused on advancing foot health research and education.

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