The defendants behind "Brain Training" programs reached a deal with the Federal Trade Commission this week by agreeing to halt claims for the products and pay the agency $200,000.
LearningRx Franchise Corp. and CEO Dr. Ken Gibson made a host of false and unsubstantiated claims that the company's programs were "clinically proven [and] scientifically measurable" to permanently improve health conditions such as ADHD, autism, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and concussions, the FTC said, and that use of its programs could substantially improve college admission test scores, school grades, career earnings, and athletic performance.
Some of the claims included: "Doctors had told us there were so many things [a student diagnosed with autism] could never do. Now he's in regular classes, he's reading on grade level, he's doing well in math like never before," "LearningRx brain training is proven to increase IQ by an average of 15 points or more. That means for every dollar spent on brain training, there's a return of $127 over a client's lifetime," and "When a neurologist told me I was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, I was devastated … I got on the phone and called the LearningRx … where I live. Could brain training help me? I'd soon know … Thinking, reading, talking—even making decisions—got faster and easier. My neurologist tested my brain function and said it had jumped from 77.1 to 95.9!"
The defendants, who operated more than 80 LearningRx centers across the country, used direct mail pieces, print and radio ads, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter posts to promote their products, the agency said. Google search ads were also used to target consumers who were conducting searches such as "cure for ADD," "autism cure," and "severe traumatic brain injury cure."
Pursuant to the proposed consent order in Colorado federal court, the defendants are prohibited from claiming that their programs improve performance at work or in athletics, or improve the cognitive function of individuals with age-related or other health conditions unless the claims are not misleading and are substantiated by human clinical testing. Misrepresentations about the existence or results of any tests or studies—or providing others with the means to make prohibited claims—are banned.
Performance, benefit, or efficacy claims about the defendants' programs are also banned absent substantiation, including claims about performance on everyday tasks, increased income, superiority to academic tutoring, and improvement of school grades or scores on standardized academic tests. A $4 million judgment will be suspended upon payment of $200,000.
To view the complaint and proposed stipulated consent order in FTC v. LearningRx Franchise Corp., click here.
Why it matters: "Companies that say they can significantly improve serious health conditions or how your brain functions in everyday situations need to back up those claims with sound science," Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press release about the settlement. "In this case, the defendants couldn't show their training provides the health or other real-world benefits they claimed." The agency acknowledged an "uptick" in FTC actions challenging deceptive claims about cognition, warning companies that "before boarding the brain train, take care to support your claims with solid science."