What Pokemon Go Fever Reveals About Public Health

Share the News


Pokemon Go has swept the nation like, well, a kind of fast-spreading disease. If you’re a Johns Hopkins public health researcher, the game everyone’s going crazy for looks instead like “the makings of a social, or health, experiment on a global scale.”

A group of public health experts weighed in on Pokemon Go this week, in a blog post that considers the impact the game might have on obesity (while wearables haven’t necessarily increased fitness among the sedentary, Pokemon Go might do them one better since it’s a game first — meaning that it’s more fun, so people are more likely to keep engaging with it); encouraging kids to spend more time outside; and encouraging social interaction.

But what about the downside of the Pokemon pandemic? Well, there’s the already-documented danger of driving-while-Pokemon-ing, which researchers suggest could be mitigated by functions that would disable the app when it’s in a moving vehicle. More troublingly, the Johns Hopkins public health team has identified what they call Pikachu dependence: “some users might find GO interfering with real life, causing relationship conflicts, low bank balances, and possibly neglect of work, school or sleep–problems common to behaviors that spiral out of control.”

Fundamentally, though, the researchers seem less drawn to condemning the game, and more interested in learning from it: How is it possible to capture and hold people’s attention so thoroughly? And is there a way to harness that power for good?

Share the News