Researchers say that Pokémon Go can increase physical activity, but that the effect is unlikely to last.
Researchers reveal that Pokémon Go can improve physical activity among young adults by increasing the number of steps taken. However, this effect is likely to wane within 6 weeks of first playing the game.
Study co-leader Katherine Howe, of the Departments of Epidemiology and Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and colleagues publish their findings in the Christmas edition of The BMJ.
Pokémon Go is a free-to-play smartphone game that uses augmented reality to emerge players into a real-world, Pokémon-catching experience.
Put simply, by utilizing a smartphone's GPS capability, the game allows players to locate and capture more than 100 species of virtual creatures in a variety of real-world locations - such as the local park or train station.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pokémon Go has attracted much criticism since its launch in July; studies have suggested the game can cause accidents by distracting drivers and pedestrians, and there have even been reports of people walking off cliffs while playing.
In contrast to these negative reports, because the game involves walking while playing, it has been suggested that Pokémon Go can encourage physical activity. However, as Howe and colleagues point out, such claims are based on "anecdotal evidence."
Pokémon Go increased number of daily steps in first week
In an attempt to gather more reliable evidence as to whether Pokémon Go boosts physical activity, Howe and team recruited 1,182 U.S. adults aged 18-35 to complete an online survey in August 2016.
All participants were owners of an iPhone 6 series smartphone, which has a built-in accelerometer that automatically records the number of steps taken when the device is being carried. All adults had downloaded the Pokémon Go game to their device.
Subjects were required to provide a screenshot of the number of steps they had taken each day in the 2 months prior to downloading Pokémon Go, and 6 weeks after.
A total of 560 participants (47.4 percent) had reached a "trainer level" of 5 or more on Pokémon Go, the team reports, which can be achieved after walking for around 2 hours.
The researchers found that use of Pokémon Go increased the number of steps by 955 each day during the first week after download.
The team calculated that if subjects took steps of 0.8 meters at a pace of 4 kilometers per hour, then this first week's change in steps is the equivalent to an additional 11 minutes of walking daily. This makes up around half of the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
However, after the first week of playing Pokémon Go, the researchers found that the daily number of steps taken by players gradually declined and, by the sixth week, daily steps had fallen to pre-download levels.
These findings remained after accounting for participants' age, sex, race, weight, and the ability to walk around their area of residence, the team reports.
'The health impact of Pokémon Go might be moderate'
All in all, the researchers say their study indicates that Pokémon Go may offer some improvement in physical activity, but this improvement is unlikely to continue. They explain:
"Our results indicate that the health impact of Pokémon Go might be moderate. Even if smaller amounts of physical activity might also be important for health outcomes, the increase in steps from Pokémon Go, as with many physical activity interventions, was not sustained over time."
Still, the authors say that their results may not apply to everyone who plays Pokémon Go; the popular game may remain beneficial for some people.
"Although the association between Pokémon Go and change in number of steps was short-lived in our study, some people might sustain increased physical activity through the game," they note.
"Also, the effect of Pokémon Go on physical activity might be different in children, who were not included in our study. Other potential benefits might exist, such as increased social connectedness and improved mood."