Many parents will do anything to ensure their children are smart and healthy, but one company just got in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for preying on those desires with potentially false claims.

Focus Education, a company responsible for the development of a “edutainment” software, has settled a complaint with the FTC regarding claims it made about one of its products. The government agency alleged that Focus Education marketed its Jungle Rangers game by telling parents that it would help improve school performance, attention, and behavior in children. The company even claimed that it could help alleviate the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As part of the settlement, Focus Education agreed to no longer mislead people by suggesting the cognitive claims are scientifically proven. Americans alone spent approximately $1.3 billion on brain games in 2013, and million of people subscribe to website that promise to improve mental functions.

We’ve asked Focus Education for a comment, and we’ll update this story with its reply.

Jungle Rangers sells for around $215, and Focus Education advertised the product with an infomercial that featured children saying their school work had improved. During a 12 month period from mid-2012 to mid-2013, the company generated sales of nearly $4.5 million, according to the FTC.

“This case is the most recent example of the FTC’s efforts to ensure that advertisements for cognitive products, especially those marketed for children, are true and supported by evidence,” Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich said. “Many parents are interested in products that can improve their children’s focus, behavior, and grades, but companies must back up their brain training claims with reliable science.”

Jungle Rangers is hardly the only product on the market making unsubstantiated claims about improving mental functions. In 1996, Colorado company Infant Entertainment started a line of toys and multimedia products that it advertised as helping develop brains in babies and small children through the use of music and other techniques. In 2006, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood brought a complaint against Infant Entertainment to the FTC — although the group decided not to take action since the company willingly removed many questionable claims and testimonials from its website.

The brain-game market is also a growing industry for adults. Video game publisher Nintendo kicked off the craze with its line of Brain Age releases for the Nintendo DS starting in 2006. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day featured several short games that designer Dr. Ryuta Kawashima claimed would increase blood flow to the prefontal cortex.

Nintendo targeted the Brain Age games at the aging “Baby Boomer” generation.

In recent years, other companies have picked up where Nintendo left off. One notable company, Lumosity, advertises its web-based mental-training services online, during podcasts, and on National Public Radio. It claims that it will help get your brain young and that its games are “based on neuroscience.”

Only this has one problem: Scientists do not agree with that claim.

Late last year, Stanford University Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development released a joint statement claiming sites like Lumosity do not help the brain. More than 70 of the world’s top cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists signed the release.

Here’s the heart of the statement:

“The strong consensus of this group is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based “brain games” alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease.”

While the FTC is going after companies targeted at children first, Lumosity and other brain-game groups will also have to stop hiding behind false science.


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