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Journal article

Influence of Pokémon Go on Physical Activity: Study and Implications

Althoff T, White R, Horvitz E ...see all

Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 18, issue 12 (2016) p. e315

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Background: Physical activity helps people maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk for several chronic diseases. Although this knowledge is widely recognized, adults and children in many countries around the world do not get recommended amounts of physical activity. While many interventions are found to be ineffec-tive at increasing physical activity or reaching inactive populations, there have been anecdotal reports of increased physical activity due to novel mobile games that embed game play in the physical world. The most recent and salient example of such a game is Pokémon Go, which has reportedly reached tens of millions of users in the US and worldwide. Objective: Quantify the impact of Pokémon Go on physical ac-tivity. Methods: We study the effect of Pokémon Go on physical ac-tivity through a combination of signals from large-scale corpora of wearable sensor data and search engine logs for 32 thousand users over a period of three months. Pokémon Go players are identified through search engine queries and activity is measured through ac-celerometry. Results: We find that Pokémon Go leads to significant increases in physical activity over a period of 30 days, with particularly en-gaged users (i.e., those making multiple search queries for details about game usage) increasing their activity by 1,473 steps a day on average, a more than 25% increase compared to their prior activity level (p < 10 −15). In the short time span of the study, we esti-mate that Pokémon Go has added a total of 144 billion steps to US physical activity. Furthermore, Pokémon Go has been able to in-crease physical activity across men and women of all ages, weight status, and prior activity levels showing this form of game leads to increases in physical activity with significant implications for pub-lic health. In particular, we find that Pokémon Go is able to reach low activity populations while all four leading mobile health apps studied in this work largely draw from an already very active popu-lation. While challenges remain in sustaining engagement of users over the long-term, if Pokémon Go was able to sustain the engage-ment of its current user base, the game could have a measurable * Research done during an internship at Microsoft Research. ACM ISBN . DOI: effect on life expectancy, adding an estimated 2,825 million years of additional lifetime to its US users alone. Conclusions Mobile apps combining game play with physical ac-tivity lead to substantial activity increases, and in contrast to many existing interventions and mobile health apps, have the potential to reach activity-poor populations.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Pokémon Go
  • physical activity
  • wearable

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  • Tim Althoff

  • Ryen W White

  • Eric Horvitz

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