The Health Risks of Pokémon Go

Though the app has been lauded for its health benefits, several countries have cautioned their citizens about the adverse effects of playing the game.

Amr Nabil / AP

Since the release of Pokémon Go earlier this month, users in the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand have gotten into car accidents, been robbed, and stumbled upon dead bodies in rivers, their attention compromised by the need to catch ’em all. The app has since been released in 38 countries, and some government officials appeared to have learned a thing or two from the experiences of the app’s first users.

France’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health Marisol Touraine issued a warning Monday in a tweet addressed to “all trainers,” encouraging Pokémon Go users to exercise caution while using the app. The app debuted in the country Sunday.

“To all the trainers: Go out, walking is good for your health! But be very attentive to avoid accidents. Happy hunting! #PokemonGo.”

To use Pokémon Go, players must physically wander around real-world locations in search of Pokémon characters. The app taps into a cellphone’s GPS and camera to make Pokémon “appear” against the backdrop of users’ surroundings as they move around. The physical component of the game has prompted many users to increase their overall physical activity, with early reports praising the game for its ability to encourage daily exercise.

But the app has taken users to some strange places, including cemeteries and strip clubs. Some locations have proven to be more dangerous than others; two men fell off an ocean bluff while attempting to catch a Pokémon in San Diego.

Several government officials and organizations in countries where the app is available have issued warnings about potential health hazards. Turkey’s health ministry advised users against playing the game during peak daylight hours in a Facebook post earlier this month, cautioning against too much sun exposure. The Israel Medical Association echoed similar warnings Sunday, advising users against playing the game between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and encouraging the use of sun protection. Japan’s National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity released a nine-point flier with safety tips for players when the app went live last week.

In Bosnia, a nongovernmental agency warned citizens in a Facebook post of the dangers of playing the game in dangerous areas, citing the risk of players wandering onto old landmines that have existed since the 1992 Bosnian War.