Reebok International Ltd. has agreed to pay $25 million in refunds to consumers to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that the company falsely claimed that its toning shoes and other products strengthened muscles.
"Consumers expected to get a workout, not to get worked over," David Vladeck, director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in announcing the settlement Wednesday.
Reebok is one of several companies that have marketed special fitness shoes designed to tone muscles. But their popularity has fallen off amid doubts and lawsuits about the health claims.
Vladeck would not say whether the FTC was investigating the claims of other marketers of the products.
The settlement covers several products from Reebok that the company said would provide specific health benefits. They include EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes that sold for $80 to $100 a pair, and EasyTone flip-flops that sold for $60 a pair.
The FTC said ads for the shoes claimed that a special technology in the sole featured pockets of moving air that created "micro instability" that toned and strengthened muscles as a person walked or ran.
In ads that began appearing in 2009, Reebok said walking in the shoes had been proved to provide 28% more strength and tone in the buttock muscles compared with regular walking shoes, 11% more in the hamstring muscles and 11% more in the calf muscles, the FTC said.
The agency's investigation found Reebok was unable to back up those claims, Vladeck said.
"Advertisers cannot make claims about their products … without having some basis for it," he said. "If you're going to make specific claims, particularly about health benefits, about your product you better have some kind of adequate substantiation about those claims before you make them."
Reebok said the settlement did not mean it was abandoning the shoes.
"We stand behind our EasyTone technology — the first shoe in the toning category that was inspired by balance-ball training," the company said.
"Settling does not mean we agree with the FTC's allegations; we do not," Reebok said. "We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the further development of our EasyTone line of products."
People who bought the Reebok toning shoes beginning Dec. 5, 2008, can apply for a refund through the FTC. The size of the refunds will depend on how many people apply, Vladeck said. Neither he nor Reebok would say how many pairs were sold.
Reebok pulled its ads after the FTC began investigating the claims, Vladeck said. Under the settlement, the company is prohibited from making health claims about the toning shoes and other products "unless the claims are true and backed by scientific evidence."