Pokemon motivation to get adults moving ‘short-lived’

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The health benefits of playing Pokemon GO wear off after just six weeks as players get bored, a new study has revealed.

The game actually got people off the sofa and out and about as they tried to ‘capture’ Pokemon characters but the excitement levels don’t last.

Daily average steps during the first week of playing increased by 955, equivalent to half of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for physical activity per week.

But in the following weeks there was a gradual reduction in the number of steps as gamers’ excitement and attention waned.

This effect on exercising was lost after just six weeks of game playing, the Harvard School of Public Health study found.

Doctoral student Katherine Howe said: “Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game in which players search real world locations for cartoon characters appearing on their smartphone screen.

“Since its launch in July 2016, the game has been downloaded over 500 million times worldwide.

“Games that incentivise exercise might have the potential to promote and sustain physical activity habits.

“Because walking is encouraged while playing, Pokémon GO has been suggested to increase physical activity and improve public health, but these claims have been based on anecdotal evidence.

“We used an online survey and automatically recorded step count data from iPhone devices to estimate the change in daily steps after installation of Pokémon GO among young adults in the United States.”

The study conducted an online survey of 1,182 participants, aged 18 to 35, who used an iPhone 6 during August 2016.

In total, 560 or 47.4 per cent reported playing Pokémon GO at “trainer level” of 5 or more, which is reached after walking for around two hours.

Data taken from the iPhones’ step counters was used to estimate the change in daily steps after installation of the game, and found an average increase of 955 steps in the first week.

However, the number of steps gradually decreased over the following five weeks, and by the sixth week the number had returned to pre-installation levels.

Ms Howe added: “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.”

However, the researchers remained optimistic.

In an accompanying video, senior author Professor Dr Eric Rimm, said: “What we found were exciting new findings that over a six week period you can do a lot to increase physical activity, we just have to be more creative about finding ways to get people to keep exercising.”

He noted that the iPhone step counter may have led to overestimation of the game’s effect on physical activity among the study participants, and the sample may not be representative of the general population.

Ms Howe concluded: “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.

“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.”

The study was published in The BMJ Christmas issue.