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Harry Potter Books Giving Kids Headaches?

Posted - Oct. 30, 2003 at 6:40 a.m.



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WASHINGTON, Oct 29, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Young fans of the extraordinarily popular Harry Potter books may have more to fear than Harry's archenemy, the evil Voldemort. A pediatrician reports, somewhat jokingly, he has detected a new condition in avid readers of the Potter series called Hogwarts headaches -- aptly named after Harry's school of witchcraft and wizardry.

Parents should not become alarmed, however, because the headaches are harmless and disappear as soon as children finish the book, said pediatrician Howard J. Bennett, author of a Letter to the Editor that reports the condition in the Oct. 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bennett, who has a private practice in Washington, stressed in an interview with United Press International his letter was "not intended to be a particularly serious piece" and he in no way wants kids to stop reading the Potter books.

The series, which thus far comprises five books authored by J.K. Rowling, follows the adventures of a young wizard named Harry Potter. It has been an enormous commercial success and two of the books have been turned into movies with more on the way.

"I'm a fan of Rowling's books ... kids should continue to read them," Bennett said, noting his daughter is also a Potter fan.

The journal's editorial staff also took a humorous view of the letter, saying it was published as somewhat of a lark.

The decision to publish it was "a tongue in cheek thing," NEMJ's Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, told UPI. "We don't think (the headache condition) is a public health crisis, but on the other hand it is something pediatricians may wish to know about," he added.

Bennett said he has seen the headache in only three children between ages 8 and 10 years, but he noted there probably are other Potter fans who have experienced it. The children complained of a two-to-three day headache, but appeared to have no other health problems. After questioning them about their daily habits, Bennett wrote he had discovered the children had spent many hours reading "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth and latest book in the series.

Bennett surmised the children's engrossed reading of the 870-page tome likely induced a tension headache. He noted the children were avid Harry Potter fans, the kind who will wait in line for hours to buy the latest book as soon as it is released and read it cover to cover within the first week.

He suggested taking a break from reading, but two of the children rejected this, opting to take a painkiller instead.

Bennett, who has been a pediatrician for 23 years, said he did not see the headaches in children reading the four previous Harry Potter books. But he noted the books have grown successively bigger, going from about 300 pages in the first of the series to the length of the current book.

"If this escalation continues as Rowling concludes the saga, there may be an epidemic of Hogwarts headaches in the years to come," Bennett wrote in mock alarm in the NEMJ.

He noted in the interview he is "not really worried about an epidemic of headaches." These types of tension headaches are common in children, he said. They typically occur in the early evening and generally are due to the physical stress and concentration involved during the school day.

"It's not like it's a serious thing," Bennett stressed. "The take-home message for kids is to keep reading, read at a desk with good lighting and take breaks."

He said physicians may want to keep this condition in mind when the sixth and next book in the series comes out, which Rowling is currently writing.

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E-mail sciencemail@upi.com

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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