Buzzfeed compiled data from fitness trackers that suggests the app has increased exercise, and some players have even tweeted that by forcing them to be more active, the game was good for their physical and mental health.
“Anything that gets people moving and not thinking about it as exercise (is good),” said Maria Guerra, a fitness trainer in Lake Forest, Calif.
But the game can also distract players while walking and driving, which can pose a safety risk, said Guerra, who serves as a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement.
At least one driver got into an accident, one person fell into a pond, and a child was hit by a car—all because of the game. A number of hospitals in Utah reported that their facilities had been chosen as popular destinations and were taken over by crowds.
Gamers could lose their jobs if they play too much at work or play too long without sleep or hydration.
The virtual avatar in the game doesn't need water or rest, but its human operator does, said Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh, a Harvard-trained expert on the use of technology in mental health treatment and a director at Brain Power. The company is developing an augmented reality app to teach autistic individuals life skills.
“Exercise and socialization in general are very positive for mental health,” Vahabzadeh said. “But we need to make sure they are done appropriately and safely.”
The game has become so popular, so quickly, that society hasn't taken the time to carefully compare the risks and benefits, Vahabzadeh said. It's good that some people feel the game boosted their mental health, but overplaying could be especially problematic for people with addictive personalities.
“When you develop a technology for mental health, you're developing a technology to try and help people by improving their mental health,” Vahabzadeh said. “When you're developing a game, your end-goal isn't necessarily to improve their physical or mental health … I'm excited but also cautious.”