Potter’s spell keeps kids out of ER

What do seat belts, bike helmets and Harry Potter have in common?

They all do a good job protecting kids from injury, according to a study published in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

Children’s visits to an English hospital’s emergency room for broken bones and similar maladies plummeted on weekends coinciding with the launch of the two most recent Harry Potter books.

A physician at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford noticed the emergency room was especially quiet one sunny, summer weekend. He also noticed three of his children spent that weekend glued to the couch, their noses buried in the latest Harry Potter tome. Coincidence?

He and his colleagues looked at three summers’ worth of records for emergency-room patients with musculoskeletal injuries between the ages of 7 and 15 years. During a typical summer weekend, doctors treated about 67 kids. The average number of injured children dropped to 37 for the weekend launches of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (June 21, 2003) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 16, 2005). Fewer injured children visited the ER on Harry Potter weekends than at any other time during the three-year study period.

Reading until they finish

Ann Christophersen, co-owner of Women & Children First bookstore in Chicago, has seen J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series cast quite a spell on legions of young fans. A couple hundred Muggles — that’s Potter speak for non-magical folks — pack the Andersonville bookshop the night of a new release.

“People say over and over again, ‘I’m going home and all I’m going to do is read this book until I finish,’ ” Christophersen said. “I guess they mean that a little more literally than I thought.”

The study’s authors, who took a tongue-in-cheek tone when writing up their research, mused that there may be “a place for a committee of safety conscious, talented writers who could produce high quality books for the purpose of injury prevention.”

While this strategy of turning kids into bookworms might reduce injuries, the potential downside could include an “increase in childhood obesity, rickets and loss of cardiovascular fitness.”

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