The Great American Cross-Out

The maker of a circulation supplement says we should all uncross our legs

Published May 18, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

If the makers of the dietary supplement Venastat have their way, May 26 will be one hell of a day to be a guy in this country. Just imagine prim and proper ladies from coast to coast with their legs wide open. Like other attempts to get people to stop doing something for 24 hours, Pharmaton, which makes Venastat, is hoping to get America's women to leave their legs -- gasp! -- uncrossed. They have even given their day a name worthy of a national cause: the Great American Cross-Out.

Pharmaton says it's doing this not so much to promote its product, which is supposed to help venous circulation, as to educate the masses about a bad habit. "The idea was really to get the word out that leg health is something that you should think about and that having tired or achy legs is not necessarily an inevitable part of the aging process," says company spokeswoman Barbara Goldberg.

A national survey sponsored by the company found that almost half of the female respondents cross their legs while seated, even though 75 percent of them know that it's bad for them (21 percent of the men surveyed cross their legs, and 45 percent know they shouldn't). This habit could lead to all sorts of problems, including minor swelling around the ankles and increased pressure inside the veins, says Luis Navarro, director of the Vein Treatment Center in New York, who is quoted in Pharmaton's press materials. Navarro says leg-crossing can lead to varicose and spider veins. "Leg-crossing has become second nature for many women, but they should just say 'No' to the behavior as a simple first step toward keeping their legs healthy," he states.

But charm-school grads may not need to start unlearning their expensive lessons on proper behavior. Barbara Drew, Ph.D., a specialist in cardiovascular nursing and an associate professor at the University of California at San Francisco, says there is no medical evidence to suggest that crossing your legs is unhealthy -- let alone that it will lead to varicose veins -- unless you already have a preexisting condition like heart disease. She says the worst that can happen to the normal person is a little swelling if you sit a long time with your legs crossed -- as on a plane ride. "Before it gets bad enough to damage tissue, you're going to start feeling symptoms that are uncomfortable, like your leg going to sleep," she says. "People take care of it naturally by shifting their position, rather than consciously thinking about it."

Is the national sit-like-Marlene Dietrich day worth women shifting in their seats for? "I think there are much more serious risk factors, like cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure," Drew says. "I think we should focus on known significant risk factors, rather than something like crossing your legs."

Sorry, fellas.

By Dawn MacKeen

Dawn MacKeen is a former senior writer for Salon, and author of a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, "The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2016).

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