A subsidiary of Walt Disney Co. is offering a refund to consumers who purchased Baby Einstein videos in the last five years in response to a legal challenge about the legitimacy of its educational claims.
The Baby Einstein Company began offering cash refunds last month on any Baby Einstein DVDs bought in the United States from June 5, 2004, to Sept. 4, 2009. Canadians can get a refund if they're not satisfied within 60 days under a separate program.
Launched more than a decade ago, Baby Einstein was marketed as an educational tool that helps develop cognitive skills in babies up to the age of two.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based advocacy group, claimed victory in its lengthy battle to protect consumers from falsely believing the videos could, for example, teach words to babies under two years old.
The campaign complained to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in May 2006, saying claims made on Baby Einstein packaging and the website were not supportable by scientific research.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under two years old watch no television or other "screen media."
At the time, Baby Einstein, which Disney purchased in 2001, removed some wording from the packages and took down testimonials that claimed educational benefits from the videos on its website.
The commission decided in December 2007 to take no formal action after investigating the matter.
Unsatisfied, the campaign brought its material to a group of Boston lawyers, who threatened a class-action lawsuit against Disney in a letter to CEO Robert Iger in June 2008.
In a release, the Disney subsidiary called the campaign's statements "peppered with revisionist history," and emphasized that its consumer satisfaction program has been clearly identified on its websites since 1999 and on packaging since 2008.
Educators question DVD's value
University of Toronto psychology professor Gary Walters questioned the Baby Einstein's educational value.
"They aren't going to promote things like comprehension and reading skills," he said.
The refund announcement came as a surprise to some parents who bought the product believing they were doing the right thing.
"I'm very surprised that suddenly they've turned around and said it's completely the opposite — that it's just for fun. So shocked by that," said Sarah Burden, a mother.
Child development expert Melanie Gushnowski said there are other options available to parents.
"Play with them; experience their world with them," she said. "Use their senses and have an active learning component, not passive learning, which is something like baby television."