Researchers from Brighton University are to share £1.5 million funding to study the way children’s feet develop at around the time they take their first steps.
They aim to provide parents and clinicians with improved knowledge to care for children’s feet.
The team will study how feet develop as children start to walk independently, usually at between six and 18 months old, and how feet develop into the shapes they do.
Stewart Morrison, senior lecturer in the university’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, will study parents’ and health care professionals’ beliefs about child foot health and the factors that influence those beliefs.
Dr Morrison said: “There are some fundamental gaps in our understanding of where parents get their knowledge on foot health, what concerns them and how health professionals might provide appropriate support.
“The foot is a common site of pain and injury in children. Through undertaking this research we will further understand how the foot develops in the early stages of walking and revisit the current theories that underpin our clinical practice.
“Paediatric flatfoot is a common condition that causes concerns for parents about how it should be managed.
“This can be a difficult condition for clinicians and this research will, for example, inform our approach to managing this common, but often benign, condition.
“Through working with parents, health professionals and industry partners we hope to disseminate clear, evidence-based guidance on children’s feet and broaden our understanding of children’s feet to inform good foot health throughout childhood.
“This is very timely because of the increasing emphasis on prevention rather than cure of diseases in adulthood.
“Getting evidence-based public foot health messages to parents should be a great way to prevent future problems.”
The five-year “Small Steps” project, led by the universities of Brighton and Salford, is being funded by the William M Scholl Endowment Fund, a charity focused on advancing foot health research and education. The fund is part of Central and North West London NHS Trust.
During the project, which begins this month, both university teams will work with health visitors, paediatricians, surgeons, physiotherapists and podiatrists.
Members of the footwear industry will also be involved through stakeholder groups, including leading children’s footwear and high street retailers. European and international partners will support the global reach of the project.
Small Steps will describe, for the first time, the changes in foot structure and function that occur during the development of independent walking. Data will be collected on children in Manchester and Brighton.
Dr Morrison said: “There is a poor evidence base underpinning our understanding of how feet develop and what factors such as body weight and ethnicity influence this development.
“We do not know the factors that influence health behaviours relating to children’s feet.
“We need to embed a more scientific understanding of children’s feet into public health messages provided to parents, professional practice guidelines and standards and paediatric health service provision.”
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