Is Pokemon Go The Answer To Our Obesity Crisis?

Yasin Fatine Culture and Arts, Discussion

The world is currently going through a craze on an unprecedented scale. Pokemon Go is a mobile phone game that requires the user to find and catch ‘Pocket Monsters’ in a virtual world using ‘pokeballs’, and then training these creatures up and evolving them to battle with other players’ Pokemon. Same as any other fantasy handheld game you say?

Well, no. What is unique about this app is that it uses the GPS function of your mobile phone to track the player, meaning you have to leave the house if you’re going to have any chance of doing well in this game. Throw in a few Pokemon ‘gyms’ at public hotspots, and eggs that need hatching after a certain number of steps, and you have yourself a chart-topping mobile phone app with more daily users than Twitter! But not only that; this could have massive implications for health too.

Pokemon GO requires players to leave their houses and explore their area to catch Pokemon and level up.

Pokemon GO requires players to explore their area in real life to catch Pokemon and level up. It also requires players to walk certain distances in order to hatch ‘eggs’ that include more types of Pokemon.

We are facing an obesity crisis: 61.7% of adults and 31.2% of children were classed as overweight or obese in 2014. Taxing sugar and subsidising gym membership, in my opinion, can only go so far in the battle to tackle obesity, with a novel approach desperately needed. This mobile phone game could be it. Pokemon has been around for the past 20 years; I remember being a 10 year-old on my Game Boy playing all the different versions of the game, and this app has rekindled those childhood memories.  Just walk down a street in any major city in the world, and you’ll see absolutely everyone playing, from young children to grown adults, male and female. The universality of this game is the most promising aspect from a health promotion point of view. Even I have lost count of how many ‘jogs to the park’ I have been on since this game was released.

But it is not only the promise of getting people to go outdoors and exercise; based on anecdotal accounts,  it is working wonders for users’ mental health. People with depression, anxiety and agoraphobia have described how they now feel they have something to wake up for, wanting to go outdoors, interact with other players and catch Pokemon. It has been found that children who frequently access social media are associated with having poorer mental health, and it seems that this game would be best-suited in targeting this audience.

Nintendo (the company behind Pokemon) has done well in the past to release innovative games that require the player to become more active; particularly the best-selling Wii Fit and Wii Sports games, but I believe Pokemon Go has surpassed them in terms of scope and potential. This is a free-to-download application that does not need more hardware than a simple smartphone. Its imaginative appeal draws in children as well as nostalgic adults, and the massive number of Pokemon to catch and competitive nature of the game will ensure its longevity in the app market.

There are already apps available to download that are aimed at the more health-conscious user, either through tracking how much exercise one has done that day, monitoring diet, or helping with smoking cessation. But I feel it is not farfetched to believe that Pokemon Go will be the app to lead a health revolution in the 21st century, helping address people’s physical, mental and social well-being combined. All it needs is a healthy phone battery.

Yasin is a junior doctor currently working in care of the elderly. He is also an avid lover of chips and ketchup.