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Study estimates Pokemon Go has added over 144 billion steps to US physical activity

A new study of Pokemon Go interest correlation with activity finds that "if this user engagement could be sustained, Pokémon Go would have the potential to measurably affect US life expectancy."

Alex Wawro, Contributor

January 9, 2017

2 Min Read

"Highly engaged users were almost 3 times as likely to meet official activity guidelines in the 30 days after starting to play Pokémon Go compared with that before. If this user engagement could be sustained, Pokémon Go would have the potential to measurably affect US life expectancy.

- excerpt of findings from a study of how interest in Pokemon Go correlates with physical activity.

It's been roughly six months since Niantic and The Pokemon Company's mobile catch-em-all game Pokemon Go debuted in the US, and at least one study suggests the free-to-play game has had a notable positive impact on players' health.

Devs curious about how much augmented-reality games like Pokemon Go can actually influence players' health might be interested in checking out a paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research last month about the "Influence of Pokemon Go on Physical Activity."

Put simply, the paper posits -- based on a three-month study of ~32,000 wearers of Microsoft fitness trackers conducted jointly by Microsoft Research and Stanford University researchers -- that interest in playing Pokemon Go correlates with an increase in physical activity, and that greater interest is often linked to even greater boosts in exercise. This in turn leads researchers to suggest that regular play of Pokemon Go (or games like it) could meaningfully improve public health.

"We studied the effect of Pokémon Go on physical activity through a combination of large-scale wearable sensor data with search engine logs and showed that the game leads to significant increases in physical activity over a period of 30 days, particularly with the engaged users increasing their average activity by 1473 steps a day or 26 percent," reads an excerpt of the paper. 

"Based on our findings, we estimate that the game has already added an estimated 144 billion steps to US physical activity. If engagement with Pokémon Go could be sustained over the lifetime of its many users, we estimate that the game would add an estimated 2.825 million years of additional lifetime to its US users "

However, as the paper itself points out, there are some meaningful caveats to this data. Most notably, the study only looked at anonymized data collected by Microsoft -- it did not directly interview any of the people studied, and it basically had to make very educated guesses about which participants were actually playing Pokemon Go (as opposed to say, running searches to find out what the game was and why everyone was talking about it.)

Moreover, that data came from a limited group of people: folks in the U.S. who could afford a ~$250 fitness tracker and agreed to allow Microsoft to collect and study their activity and search data. You can find further details about the study's methodology and findings in the full paper.

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