Baby videos deceptive, advocacy group argues
By Barbara F. Meltz, Boston Globe Staff | May 2,
A Boston-based child advocacy group filed a
complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
yesterday charging the makers of the popular Baby
Einstein and Brainy Baby videos with false and
deceptive advertising. The complaint says there is
no evidence the programs are educational, despite
the claims on their packaging and websites.
It is the second time in two months that the
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has taken
on the growing baby-video industry, whose sales so
far are estimated at $1 billion.
In the complaint, CCFC said Baby Einstein and
Brainy Baby lure parents into thinking babies will
be smarter if they watch the videos. The complaint
asks the FTC to stop the companies from making
educational claims and to require a disclaimer on
websites, videos, and DVD packaging -- similar to
the ones on cigarette packs -- telling parents
that television may be harmful to a baby's health.
It cites the American Academy of Pediatrics'
recommendation that children 2 and younger not
watch any TV.
''There is no research to show that watching a
screen is beneficial to a baby in any way,
educational or otherwise. If anything, it may be
putting babies at risk," said child psychiatrist
Alvin F. Poussaint, a member of the CCFC steering
committee who is a director of Judge Baker's
Children Center in Boston. ''A two-dimensional
screen can never replace a real environment, rich
in all five senses. Holistic play is what develops
all the pathways to the brain."
Dennis Fedoruk, president, founder and CEO of
Atlanta-based Brainy Baby Company, says he agrees
with CCFC that ''companies should not make
ridiculous claims for any product. We're just not
one of those companies. We say babies will learn
their ABCs and 123s. That's not a claim. I see
that as being accurate." He cited parents'
testimonials as evidence.
Fedoruk said the pediatrics academy is
overreaching. ''It assumes parents can't make an
intelligent decision on the subject," he said.
A publicist for Baby Einstein said the company
could not comment yesterday.
Last month CCFC ignited a national debate when it
denounced Zero to Three, a nonprofit devoted to
healthy baby and toddler development, for its
collaboration on ''Sesame Beginnings," a new line
of DVDs for babies as young as 6 months and their
''We have an ongoing concern that parents and
babies are being exploited by the media and market
industries," said Susan Linn, a psychologist who
is a cofounder of CCFC. ''Parents have a right to
honest information, and they aren't getting it
from these baby-video companies." Research has
linked early TV viewing to diminished deductive
reasoning and childhood obesity, she said.
Brainy Baby -- whose slogan is ''a little genius
in the making" -- says on its website that its
videos are ''an entertaining way to help little
ones learn educational basics, stimulate cognitive
development and gain a smart start to learning."
Baby Einstein makes similar claims, describing the
''Baby Wordsworth: First Words Around the House"
video as ''a fun and fascinating interactive tool
that fosters the development of your toddler's
speech and language skills."
''The videos' names alone, Baby Einstein and
Brainy Baby, are deceptive," said Angela Campbell,
the attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of
CCFC. ''They create an overall impression from the
start that this will make your kid smarter."
Brainy Baby was founded in 1995, Baby Einstein in
1997, both by parents of young children. Baby
Einstein, which has a 90 percent share of the
baby-video market, was acquired in 2001 by the
Walt Disney Co. According to a study by the Kaiser
Family Foundation, 25 percent of babies under 2
have baby videos, and 49 percent of parents of
babies think such videos are ''very important."
Testimonials from parents on the Baby Einstein
website tap into parents' hopes that they can give
their baby an advantage. ''I don't let my kids
watch TV, but this is good for them. I want my
kids to get ahead," reads one.
Donald Shifrin, a Seattle pediatrician who chairs
the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on
the impact of media on children, said fewer than
10 percent of parents are aware that television
viewing is not recommended for children under 2.
''Marketing for Baby Einstein has allowed it to
develop a cachet that encourages parents to think
their baby is missing out on something if they
don't use them," he said. ''We do not know that to
be true. I tell parents, 'Feel free not to use
On its website, Baby Einstein disputes the
pediatrics academy's recommendation, saying it
fails to distinguish between TV and videos,
particularly those with content made specifically
It's unlikely there will ever be definitive
research, said pediatrician Michael Rich, director
of the Center on Media and Child Health at
Children's Hospital Boston.
''It's unethical," he said. ''What parent would
willingly want their child to be part of the
experimental group? What board of ethics would
approve the research? As a practitioner, the best
you can do is go with the best available research,
which, in this case, tells us that to do more
complete research could put into jeopardy the
children we would be studying."
Sadly, he added, ''parents are creating a natural
laboratory for future research every time they put
a baby in front of one of these videos."
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