June 20, 2008

Dieters Ordered to Keep Shoes On

By WEBB, Kathy

WEIGHTWATCHERS has stripped its members of one of the age-old secrets to sudden weight loss -- taking your shoes off before you step on the scales -- amid concerns about smelly feet and foot diseases.

A directive introduced this month now requires all members in Australia and New Zealand to wear shoes when they have their weekly weigh-ins.

WeightWatchers New Zealand national manager Colleen Stairmand said the directive, from the head office in Sydney, read: "Having considered recent customer service issues, and to ensure the health, safety and comfort of members, shoes must be worn by members."

While there had been complaints about smelly feet at some Australian meetings, there had been none in New Zealand. However, concern at sharing a foot disease was also a factor.

"We're trying to be consistent in policy, and most people are comfortable about it once they get their heads around it," Mrs Stairmand said.

Members are advised to choose one pair of shoes for their weekly weigh-ins and to stick with them. Leaders of meetings would even go to the extent of a one-off weighing of the shoes alone.

"We recommend they choose the lightest shoes they can get. Crocs weigh only 200 grams," Mrs Stairmand said.

Podiatry New Zealand president Bruce Baxter was surprised to hear of the ban. "I can't see any rampant risk," he said.

Tinea or veruccas could be transmitted relatively easily in some situations, but this was unlikely when standing on a set of scales. A clean paper towel for each person would overcome any problems.

Auckland microbiologist Susan Taylor said she suspected the ban might be more a case of politely dealing with the problem of smelly feet than with any risk of spreading disease.

"I wouldn't have thought that would be a very high risk at all. Intact skin is a good barrier.

"If someone had an infection, it might be passed on , but there are lots of situations where people are barefoot."

Another WeightWatchers spokeswoman, Karen Church, said the organisation was now encouraging members not to depend so much on the weekly weigh-in to measure their progress. "We also get people to look at long-term weight loss as well."

Other indicators of successful weight loss were improved fitness, less snoring or use of asthma inhalers, a looser wedding ring and the ability to wrap a towel around yourself.

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