Awesome Article: Preventing Winter Falls

Yes, it’s Otago’s famed Ig Nobel Prize winner: “Preventing winter falls: a randomised controlled trial of a novel intervention

It comes to the conclusion that “Wearing socks over shoes appears to be an effective and inexpensive method to reduce the likelihood of slipping on icy footpaths.” (Protip, those of you that suffer from ice falls, as 65% of the participants in this study previously had, socks over shoes are funny-looking but they do work)

Apparently the authors found a gap in the literature and decided to rectify this. It’s like a real-life publishable version of mythbusters.

We initially considered recruiting volunteers to walk down a short suburban street (Baldwin Street) which, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is the steepest street in the world. However this proved impractical … requiring volunteers to traverse a 1 in 2.86 gradient in icy conditions seemed ethically and legally unwise

Having a serious risk of falling (as I can attest to, having had a friend that lived up Baldwin St) does seem to be ethically unwise, particularly if it turned out that socks made things more slippery.

In light of the observed behaviour of pedestrians (often young men) at these sites on previous mornings, participants were asked to refrain from deliberately skidding or sliding.

Assessors were also asked to document any falls and to comment on the demeanour of the participants during their descent (for example, “walked confidently”, “clung to fences or parked cars”, “crawled”).

Fun fact: I walked barefoot most of the way to a exam in first semester last year, because both my shoes and socks were resulting in me falling over every three steps.

Feedback from the intervention group about the use of socks was informative: “socks are key!!”, “that was sweet as”, “recommend socks for hungover people”, “socks helped with slipperiness but wouldn’t wear them to uni[versity]!”
The only adverse events were short periods of embarrassment for the image-conscious in the intervention group.

This is wonderful, and I respect the Ig Nobel it has.

a retired couple who lived beside one of the study sites provided a compelling oral history covering several decades of ice-related mishaps on their street.

What a wonderful way to say “Some old people talked to us and would not be quiet.” (#overlyhonestmethods)

Competing interests: None known. In particular, none of the authors has financial links with sock manufacturers and none of us own sheep.

In conclusion, an adorable paper that made me smile.

Parkin L, Williams SM, Priest P. Preventing winter falls: A randomised controlled trial of a novel intervention. (2009) The New Zealand Medical Journal, 122 (1298)

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