At present, there are approximately 101 million iPhone users in the United States. Considering the rising rates of obesity nationwide, experts were hopeful that the Pokémon GO craze could have a long-lasting, positive health impact on its users. Unfortunately, recent studies show that the trend had no real staying power: according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, the game’s healthy effects lasted for only six weeks.
A team of Harvard researchers surveyed 560 Pokémon GO users aged 18-35 across the nation, all of whom played the game on their iPhone 6s. The researchers compared users’ daily steps from the month prior to installation to the six weeks following installation of the game.
The first week after installation showed a lot of promise. In fact, users experienced an average increase of 955 extra steps per day, which equates to an additional 11 minutes of walking. But in the five weeks that followed, the number of daily steps consistently decreased; six weeks after installation, their activity rates returned to pre-installation levels.
The data illustrates that Pokémon GO is not the answer to low activity levels and high obesity rates. Rather, it was nothing more than a flash in the pan.
One reason for this is that the game didn’t change consistently enough. Although new features were added, there wasn’t enough incentive for long-time users to play by the rules and continue to push themselves physically. Simply put, they got bored. And because the game failed to overcome the competition, users switched to games that didn’t require the extra physical effort.
The other piece of the puzzle is that, in order to make a significant lifestyle change, you cannot amend or add just one thing. Single interventions like a game or a piece of equipment are not enough to make a big commitment to your health. Although experts might have been hopeful that the game would essentially trick users into adding physical activity into their routines without conscious effort, one app — no matter how much fun — was simply not enough.
To put it in perspective, the average adult needs at least 2.5 hours of aerobic physical activity every week. Ideally, this activity should be performed at a moderate level and should not be for less than 10 minutes at a time. Pokémon GO may have gotten people off the couch and out into the world on their own two feet, but the level of activity it promotes isn’t really significant enough on its own.
Although the idea of Pokémon GO may still hold promise, it would take a lot of effort — both on the part of developers and users — for it to take shape as a genuine fitness tool. For now, it may be safe to say that people need to put away the devices and make a real pledge to physical fitness, rather than relying on our screens to do the work for us.