With the last Harry Potter movie in the piping (due for a global release this weekend), it is understandable if the Potter craze gets a little irked this time around. And in true keeping with my Pottermania, in this post, I am going to examine the effect the release of Potter books/movies has on us.
I am not the first one to question the impact of Potter on kids and nor will I be the last. In their seminal paper in the BMJ, Gwilym et al establishes beyond reasonable doubt that no matter what the Potter books may do, they reduce ER visits of kids (due to trauma). The authors worked on the premise that:
Given the lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels, or sharp edges associated with this particular craze we were interested to investigate the impact the Harry Potter books had on children’s traumatic injuries during the peak of their use.
In a scrupulously designed study, they screened out weather issues on the weekends of the release of The Order of the Phoenix (Saturday, 21st June, 2003) and The Half Blood Prince (Saturday, 16th July, 2005) and compared numbers of admissions of all children aged 7-15 years attending to the Emergency Department with musculoskeletal injuries on those weekends with the ones in other adjacent weekends in the similar period over the past few years.
And here is what they found:
(click on picture to embiggen)
The figure shows the weekend attendance to our emergency department in June and July between 2003 and 2005. The mean attendance rate for children aged 7-15 years during the control weekends was 67.4 (SD 10.4). For the two intervention weekends the attendance rates were 36 and 37 (mean 36.5, SD 0.7). This represents a significant decrease in attendances on the intervention weekends, as both are greater than two SD from the mean control attendance rate and an unpaired t test gives a t value of 14.2 (P < 0.0001). At no other point during the three year surveillance period was attendance that low. MetOffice data suggested no confounding effect of weather conditions.
These results lead the authors to a ground breaking revelation:
We observed a significant fall in the numbers of attendees to the emergency department on the weekends that of the two most recent Harry Potter books were released. Both these weekends were in mid-summer with good weather. It may therefore be hypothesised 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.
While the role of distraction therapy has been very well studied and implemented in the setting of carrying out painful clinical procedures, it is a novel idea in the field of injury prevention. Childhood trauma can lead to significant morbidities in later life and hence this sort of a distraction based intervention is indeed of great value in this regard. However, the authors sign off with a warning note when they say that this might complicate issues by causing an unpredictable increase in childhood obesity, rickets and cardiovascular morbidities. Now that makes it a bit of a double edged sword, don’t it?
Note: In case you are aware of more Harry Potter oriented, convention breaking research like this one, send them my way. You can email me here: pranab AT pranab DOT in.
Gwilym, S. (2005). Harry Potter casts a spell on accident prone children BMJ, 331 (7531), 1505-1506 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.331.7531.1505