This week, the Pokémon Go download count surpassed 75 million. To give that number some perspective, there are approximately 113 million Americans who struggle with obesity – our nation’s largest chronic health problem.
It begs the question: What if Pokémon Go could get America moving enough to put a dent in our obesity epidemic?
American Council on Exercise (ACE), the world largest health and fitness nonprofit with the mission to end the obesity epidemic by 2035, says…. probably not.
Jonathan Ross is an internationally leading expert in healthy behavior change (the neuroscience and psychology of how people make healthy choices). As American Council on Exercise Certified Behavior Change Specialist and Senior Consultant on Personal Training, Johnathan Ross has the following to say on Pokémon Go:
Do you believe Pokémon Go and other augmented reality games in the future will help get more people active and moving?
Ross: For the most part, no. For a small amount of people, it could lead to lasting behavior change. However, when the motivation, desire and appeal is to play a game, the physical activity is secondary and the majority of people will move only to achieve the objectives of the game. When the game phases out, so does the movement.
How could the fitness industry could jump on board with the trend? Will they?
Ross: Game-ification is already well underway in the fitness industry in general. Bringing fun into the physical intensity required for physical change is shifting perspectives in people who are not drawn to traditional approaches to fitness. More specific to this style of game, there will likely be some variations on this where people play a game where you perform various fitness activities or exercises as you get to certain spots. With this kind of popularity, there is no doubt that there will be fitness versions of this.
Is this trend a good opportunity to engage younger people in fitness and healthier lifestyles?
Ross: No, not really. There are a lot of positives in that people meeting at Pokestops or encountering each other out and about playing the game may strike up conversations so there is the potential for social interaction which may have a secondary benefit of getting people out and about, but this will all depend on the behaviors that are dominant in that small group. There is a greater likelihood of the social contagion leading to an uptick of unhealthy behaviors rather than healthy ones. (i.e., it is more likely that people will go to a happy hour, out for drinks or get fast food than it is that a group of Pokemon Go players will meet and suddenly decide to go hiking as a group on a regular basis.)
What’s the problem nobody is talking about?
Ross: Many people mistakenly believe that “anything which gets people moving,” is a good thing, and this is easily seen to be untrue. Look at the general state of people’s posture now that we’ve become a desk-bound, sitting-based society. Spending a lot of time moving with bad posture is never a good idea. Walking a lot with your head down, shoulders forward and arms turned in on your phone will do more harm than the good it does.