It may be assumed that a combination of culture, climate and economic resource are the major reasons that non-industrialised countries have a higher prevalence of barefoot activity. New Zealand is an industrialised country with comparable resources to that of many European countries; however, it seems to remain socially acceptable to carry out barefoot activities. A chance observation of students competing barefoot on a tartan track, prompted us to determine the prevalence of barefoot activity in an all-boys secondary school in Auckland New Zealand.
An 11-question survey was administered at an Auckland boys secondary school, of high socioeconomic status, to determine the footwear habits of students (n = 714) during: a) daily life b) school life (c) physical education class and (d) sport. To classify students as habitually barefoot or shod, students were asked to select whether they were barefoot most of the time (2-points), half of the time (1-point) or none of the time (0-points) in three settings: around the house, during sport and during school. A score of ≥3 was required to be considered habitually barefoot. Participants were also asked to specify, when running at their most recent athletics event (100 m - 3000 m) on a track, whether they ran barefoot, in shoes, in spikes or another type of footwear. Finally, participants were asked to indicate if leg pain had interrupted running during the previous 12-months. Analysis was conducted using IBM SPSS.
45% (95% CI: 41.5-49.5%) of the participants in our sample were classified as habitually barefoot. More than half of the sample reported being barefoot most of the time at home (n = 404, 56.6%) and during PE class (n = 420, 58.8%). Over 50% of the sample reported being barefoot half of the time or more during sport (n = 380, 53.2%). A smaller amount went to the supermarket (n = 140, 19.6%) or took the bus (n = 59, 8.3%) whilst barefoot around half of the time or more. The percentage of barefoot competitors declined with increasing distance: 100 m (46.5%), 200 m (41.8%), 400 m (38%), 800 m (31%), 1500 m (31%) and 3000 m (20%). The prevalence of leg pain interfering with running was 23.5%. There was no difference in the prevalence of leg pain between those classified as habitually barefoot and shod (Χ2(1, N = 603) = 0.005, p = 0.946).
The results of this survey demonstrate that over 50% of students at an all-boys secondary school in Auckland, of high socioeconomic status, are barefoot at home, during physical education and sport half of the time or more. These results may point towards a cultural difference between New Zealand and other modern industrialised countries.