Will Pokémon Go pave way to new health apps?

At the height of the Pokémon Go craze last summer, Dave Schilling wrote in the Guardian that “there are some haters out there who claim Pokémon Go is poised to ruin our already tenuous society… Pokémon Go is the first mass entertainment in years to require a person to leave the house to play it. Yes, it’s obnoxious to see someone in a movie theater, a Starbucks line or at a funeral trying to snuff out the nearest Charizard or Squirtle instead of paying attention to what’s happening directly in front of them. But it’s marginally better than Snapchat, which is a massive victory for our culture.”

Pokémon Go could be the start of a new trend in health apps. So far, as Dr Margaret McCartney wrote in the British Medical Journal, health apps have been marketed to people who want to get fit. Those people aren’t the main issue in terms of public health problems. The hard part is how to change the behaviours of people who don’t particularly want to get healthy. The best solution we seem to have come up with has been educating people about the importance of being fit in the hope of cultivating healthy habits.

Enter Pokémon Go. A game that requires players to leave the confines of their house and walk for miles to collect virtual monsters dotted around town. According to the Economist, “players of Pokémon Go have collectively walked nearly 9bn kilometres since the smartphone game was released last year.” What is different is that Pokémon Go is not a health app. Its purpose is not to get people walking. The players aren’t counting steps or tracking their weight loss. They collect their monsters and clock these health benefits as a side product.

This could be the Holy Grail for public health advisors who are trying to find ways to reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes. Engage people within what they already enjoy and tag on features that get people active. And how about workplace health initiatives? Will we see a workplace Pokémon Go tournament replace 5-a-side football? With health & safety measures in place to stop game play at the actual workplace to avoid accidents on the assembly line.