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Harry Potter protects children from traumatic injury - that is, young fans of the fictional magician are so devoted to reading the heavy tomes by J.K. Rowling that they don't get into trouble and aren't hurt.
This is the conclusion of an article by orthopedic surgeons in the United Kingdom, published today in the special Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, which highlights genuine research devoted to wacky subjects. The publication fortuitously falls on the day when the Hebrew edition of Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hits Israeli bookstores - thus giving parents the opportunity to keep them safe as they read.
During the weeks after the latest Harry Potter books come out, children abandon dangerous activities such as skateboarding and riding microscooters to curl up with the book, said Drs. Stephen Gwilym, Dominic Howard, Nev Davies and Keith Willett of John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. They studied the cases of all children aged seven to 15 who were treated for musculoskeletal injuries in hospital emergency rooms in their area over the summer weekends of 2003 to 2005.
The launch dates of the two most recent Harry Potter books (The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince) were June 21, 2003 for the first and June 16, 2005 for the second (both were Saturdays). The researchers retrospectively compared the numbers of admissions for these "intervention" weekends with those for summer weekends in previous years when no Rowling book was released.
The average rate of emergency room visits during the control weekends was 67, while for the two intervention weekends, the attendance rates were 36 and 37.
At no other point during the three-year surveillance period was attendance that low; data obtained for each of the weekends suggested that weather conditions were not responsible for the difference.
"We observed a significant fall in the numbers of attendees to the emergency department on the weekends that the two most recent Harry Potter books were released," say the authors, who suggest (tongue-in-cheek, perhaps) that talented writers should produce more high-quality books for children to prevent injuries.
Dr. Michael Hemmo-Lotem, director of the National Center for Child Safety and Health (B'terem) said she was pleased to hear that reading Rowling's books could reduce accidents among Israeli children, as Hanukka is a high-risk holiday, with numerous injuries due to burns from candles and fried foods and because children are on holiday from school and unsupervised. "But don't depend on Harry Potter to keep them safe," added Hemmo-Lotem.
"Don't leave hanukkiyot or matches on tablecloths or low tables otherwises accessible to younger children," she said. "And do not let younger children fry doughnuts by themselves."
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