Could Pokémon Go revolutionise a whole generation’s health?

Pokemon Go
Jorge Armanet, Co-founder and  CEO of HealthUnlocked

Jorge Armanet, CEO of HealthUnlocked, considers the impact of new app craze Pokémon Go on health and wellbeing.

Those who play or spend time on computer games are often, perhaps unfairly, labelled as people who are unlikely to do exercise, more likely to sit on a sofa and certainly unlikely to go outside.

And yet, it’s hard not to notice what the latest app craze – Pokémon Go – is doing. It’s making people do just that: go outside, walk around and – would you believe it – to exercise. Gamers who would barely leave the house a few weeks ago, are reportedly spending hours walking around chasing Pokémon.

Within hours of Pokémon Go being available for download, this technology was driving people within the HealthUnlocked team to go for a walk. There were soon conversations about where they walked last night, and rather than lunches at people’s desks, they were off walking to catch a Pokémon. Some of the office have estimated they are walking more than an extra 5K across the whole day since downloading the game.

Have we noticed better health and wellbeing amongst our staff? Well not yet, but it’s early days and the extra exercise is certainly a good thing for the general health and mental wellbeing of staff.

There has also been some evidence of the positive impact of the app by some of our 450,000 members. Our online wellbeing communities such as Couch to 5K and NHS weight loss, are getting posts from users to say that the game is directly making them more active. Additionally, communities that cover depression and anorexia are finding the app is a useful distraction for some of them.

The NHS and many other healthcare providers have been trying to encourage people to be more active for years, and the associated health benefits and therefore reduced costs to the health system are well documented.

We have seen some fabulous initiatives, such as Couch to 5K within the UK, where people are supported to take their first run, then gradually build up to 5K. Our HealthUnlocked online community for the initiative was visited by over 700,000 people during the last year, which shows just how many people want support and help to become more active and are looking to technology. This NHS initiative also has an app that has been downloaded by millions of people, social media pages and a website dedicated to it.

Health and wellbeing initiatives are traditionally devised by health experts, with technology such as apps and websites, developed once the programme has been fully considered and designed. By bringing these two expert groups together earlier in the process, there is an opportunity to create programmes that have the potential to revolutionise people’s self care and health habits.

Wired has mapped the ‘the phenomenal impact of Pokémon Go in numbers’ and we will get more data in the coming weeks on the true effect of the app. Will we see it revolutionise the health of the world’s population? Probably not, but this kind of technology has the potential to rethink how we develop health and wellbeing initiatives. What is certain is that the power that technology and apps such as Pokémon Go have should not be underestimated.

HealthUnlocked was co-founded by Jorge Armanet and Dr Matt Jameson Evans who believed technology and healthcare have the potential to revolutionise self care.HealthUnlocked is the world’s largest social network for health with 40 million visitors each year.