Study: Pokémon Go a step in the right direction for improving health

Photo credit: Getty/LDProd

Can all the extra steps Pokémon Go players take in their quest to capture the likes of Charizard and Weedle translate into actual health benefits? Perhaps, according to early research conducted on data from users of AchieveMint with the help of Harvard Medical School Clinical Informatics Fellow John Torous.

For the research, information from AchieveMint, a platform designed to aggregate data from and reward users of fitness apps, was examined on members who opted to play Pokémon Go, and compared with data for those members who did not play, according to a blog post by Leslie Oley, a product lead with the company (hat tip to Politico Morning eHealth). For those who played, the researchers also compared activity 30 days before and after they said they started playing.

The research found that Pokémon Go players on average increased their step counts by 1,000 daily. It also determined that the step counts for people who reported a BMI over 30 increased twice as much as for those who said their BMI was less than 30. However, the research also found that, for players whose step counts grew significantly, the trend only lasted for two weeks after starting the game.

"Pokémon Go players are more active, at least for a period of time, and that increased activity can make people healthier," Oley wrote.

Torous called the findings “the best glimpse of data to date” for studying the effectiveness of augmented reality on health behaviors.

"Learning how we can transform the excitement and energy around technologies like Pokémon Go into validated and sustained physical and mental health benefits is both the challenge and opportunity ahead," he said.

In an editorial published in Games for Health Journal this month, Editor-in-Chief Tom Baranowski, of the Baylor College of Medicine department of pediatrics, calls for researchers to submit studies on the effects of Pokémon Go. He says while augmented reality and augmented reality games have been available since the early 1990s, there has been “minimal interest” in creating games specifically designed to boost physical activity (PA).

“It is clear from the release of Pokémon Go and ensuing episode of game play that, despite conventional wisdom, substantial numbers of people ... were willing to be physically active for long periods of time,” he said. “Based on such research, what might we encourage Nintendo [and other game developers] to do in creating future games so they make more profit [we need to pay attention to the company's motivation] while society benefits from more prevalent and longer PA [a social good]?”

However, a Bloomberg report this week indicates that Pokémon Go use is on the decline.

To learn more:
- here’s the blog post
- check out Baranowski’s post
- read the Bloomberg article

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