Influence of Pok\'emon Go on Physical Activity: Study and Implications

Tim Althoff, Ryen W. White, Eric Horvitz

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 ineffective 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 Pok\'emon Go, which has reportedly reached tens of millions of users in the US and worldwide. We study the effect of Pok\'emon Go on physical activity 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. Pok\'emon Go players are identified through search engine queries and activity is measured through accelerometry. We find that Pok\'emon Go leads to significant increases in physical activity over a period of 30 days, with particularly engaged users (i.e., those making multiple search queries for details about game usage) increasing their activity by 1473 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 estimate that Pok\'emon Go has added a total of 144 billion steps to US physical activity. Furthermore, Pok\'emon Go has been able to increase 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 public health. We find that Pok\'emon 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 population.

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