British researchers report that on the weekends when the last two books of the series came out, young people made far fewer visits to an Oxford emergency room. The study, led by Dr. Stephen Gwilym of John Radcliffe Hospital, appears in the final 2005 issue of the journal BMJ, which tends toward the tongue-in-cheek in its year-ender.
“Given the lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels or sharp edges associated with this particular craze,” they said, “we were interested to investigate the impact the Harry Potter books had on children’s traumatic injuries during the peak of their use.”
(In fact, one of the study’s authors “conjured up the original idea,” after a quiet on-call weekend, “then witnessing three of his children ‘petrified’ on the sofa.”)
The effect, it turns out, was significant. The researchers looked at how many children ages 7 to 15 went to the E.R. with musculoskeletal injuries on the 2003 weekend after “The Order of the Phoenix” was published, and on the 20o5 weekend of “The Half-Blood Prince.” They compared these numbers with admissions in a three-year period.
On the Harry Potter weekends, they found, the admission rates went down by almost half – even though each was a pleasant summer weekend when business in the E.R. would ordinarily be good.
The authors see the possibility of broadening the benefit. “It may therefore be hypothesized,” they wrote, “that there is a place for a committee of safety-conscious, talented writers who could produce high-quality books for the purpose of injury prevention.”