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Firm alters claim that its DVDs educate infants

 

Paul Nyhan

Seattle PI
March 4, 2008

 

Baby Einstein has changed language promoting some baby DVDs on its Web site, a move critics hailed as a victory in their effort to stop what they say are false claims that the videos are educational.

In 2006, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, accusing both companies of false and deceptive advertising by suggesting the DVDs help foster speech, understanding of numbers and other educational gains.

University of Washington researchers also entered the debate, questioning the value of the videos.

In early December, the FTC decided not to penalize either company, but it also cited changes on the companies' Web sites, including removal of testimonials and changes in descriptions of videos, according to documents provided by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"Parents who visit these sites will no longer be subjected to some of these companies' most deceptive claims about the educational benefits of their videos," the Boston-based advocacy group said in a statement.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned Baby Einstein also started a new Web site in February but said that step was not in response to the federal inquiry.

Baby Einstein, though, mentioned separate changes it made in a statement it released after the FTC concluded its inquiry.

"We are hopeful that the voluntary modifications we made to our Web site and three of our DVD packages will help clarify what Baby Einstein is all about," a news release said in December.

In the release, Baby Einstein highlighted the interactive and explorative nature of its DVDs.

The online changes were not enough to mollify critics, who say the companies continue to benefit from past claims.

"The brand has been built on years of deceptive marketing that people associate ... as being educational," said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Last year, a group of UW researchers released a study that suggested overuse of baby videos could slow learning of vocabulary in children from 8 to 16 months old, naming Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby in a summary.

"The right thing is to be explicit that this product is intended clearly for entertainment and has no (documented) educational benefits," Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a UW professor and co-author of the study, said Tuesday.

Still, Christakis welcomed Baby Einstein's changes, though he added, "the best available scientific answers suggest no benefits, and at least the potential of harm."

One of the problems is that scientists are not keeping pace with the consumption of these media products, Christakis said, and are just beginning to understand the effect of media on infants and toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no television for children under the age of 2. Baby Einstein said it respects that position but that it doesn't reflect the realities of modern parenting.

"The Baby Einstein Company believes that when used properly, developmentally appropriate video content can be a useful tool for parents and little ones to enjoy together," the company said on its Web site.

 

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