A new study by the scientific journal The Lancet finds that laziness costs Americans $27.8 billion annually. The researchers wanted to focus on a few diseases only and isolate the costs coming directly from inactivity. That means the figure they found is likely way too small and conservative. In fact, health experts assert that 22 diseases in total link directly to sloth. Rather than expand health insurance coverage and Medicaid funding, perhaps it’s time to go down a different, more productive path. The US Government should pay you to play Pokemon Go.
Long time readers will know I have a joke oriented site called Wealthy Walnut where I put my sarcastic and silly articles. This article is on Millennial Moola instead because I’m being serious. Think of the volume of fast food chains in poor neighborhoods. While middle class families can and do eat unhealthy food at fast food chains, they also have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for a reasonable price. The urban poor in places like Detroit or North Philadelphia might have to choose from a corner store oriented around selling alcohol, sugary drinks, and tobacco or a KFC/McDonald’s.
Being poor and inactive is more dangerous to your health and the taxpayers’ wallets than being middle class and inactive. Most people making below the poverty line have publicly funded Medicaid or CHIP plans for health insurance. The cost estimates in this study seem to support this assumption.
Though the private costs and health insurance bill is close, public costs is number 1. This explains why the First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature initiative has been “Let’s Move.” Her efforts the past eight years have largely been focused on getting kids to play and exercise. She also has tried to get more healthy food into lower income communities and into schools. I attended a Title 1, impoverished school where over 60% of the students had free or reduced lunch. The school served fried chicken every Wednesday, and had plenty of fatty, unhealthy food on the other days of the week. I’m glad Mrs. Obama has tried to help communities and schools like the one I attended with encouraging healthier habits and getting physical exercise.
It’s Still Not Enough, So Why Not Try Something New?
I’ve seen stories all over the internet about people who’ve lost dozens of pounds from Pokemon Go. For the uninitiated, Pokemon Go is the wildly popular app by Niantic that allows you to catch Pokemon using GPS and Mapping technology. It’s like virtual reality. You can even use your camera to throw Pokeballs at Pokemon right where you are. The app has been such a big hit that it’s even more popular than sex. Yes, Tinder is on 2.5% of phones and it’s been out for a few years. Pokemon Go has been out a little over a month, and it’s on 3% of phones.
As part of the game, to catch Pokemon you need to walk around, a lot. You will see a Pokemon on the app and it shows 1, 2, or 3 footprints. These correspond to the distance you need to walk to find whatever Pokemon is pictured. Walking is further encouraged through the use of Pokemon eggs. To hatch them, you must walk a certain number of miles. BTW, if you have an expensive cell phone plan, I highly recommend switching to Republic Wireless, my cell phone company for the past three years. You get 1GB of data and unlimited talk and text for $20 a month. Clicking that link supports the blog so thank you.
There are other reasons the game forces you to walk a lot. Pokemon Go uses gyms and pokestops to compete against other players and refill your items to catch more Pokemon. While previous versions of addicting video games encouraged people to sit on the couch, this smash hit literally requires exercise to achieve results in the app. People have even died from sitting too long and playing video games. Now, the most popular game in the world is causing former couch potatoes and mild gaming addicts to get more exercise than they ever have in their lives.
Many articles joked that Pokemon Go got more people off the couch exercising in one week than the “Let’s Move” initiative did in the prior eight years. That’s no fault of the First Lady, rather it speaks to what motivates people. The US Government should pay you to play Pokemon Go because it might save a ton of money in costs from laziness and sloth. Perhaps federal agencies could even partner with Niantic to offer tax breaks to the company for encouraging people to exercise even more.
Some folks suspect Disney buys Pokestops, and entertainers have bought thousands of items to give them out to fans. Why shouldn’t the US government get in on the action? If you walk 10 miles over a week’s time while playing the game, Niantic could reward you with 500 pokeballs. Or they could allow your Magikarp to evolve. Maybe you could even nab a Growlith. There is so much low hanging fruit and free publicity to be had by working with the government to encourage physical activity here.
The True Costs of Inactivity and Laziness Show Why the US Government Should Pay You to Play Pokemon Go
This study has gotten so much publicity because of the extremely conservative assumptions. A previous study run by Emory University found that inactivity and laziness causes 11% of all US Health costs. That comes out to about $330 billion a year.
If paying people to play Pokemon Go could reduce these costs by even 1%, we just saved $3 billion. A simple pilot program giving away $50 million of free items for physical fitness achievements in the app could pay massive dividends. The government tends to think that every major social and structural problem in America needs another huge program to fix it. Unaffordable health insurance? Pass the ACA even though health insurance companies are bailing out of the exchanges right and left. Out of control student debt? Pass a unfunded student loan forgiveness bill that could bankrupt the country in 20 years.
When I was in corporate America, our strategy department loved to dip their toe in the water. They wanted to fund different small ideas to see what would stick. They wouldn’t commit too many resources to any one idea until they saw that the venture had a lot of potential to be successful. This approach limited their risk. They made sure that sunk costs for failed projects and business products wouldn’t prevent the company from funding great new ideas. The strategy allowed a huge established player in the financial industry to be nimble as possible to compete against its rivals. The government could learn a lot from this approach to resource allocation.
If everyone from my kid brother, best college buddies, and my septuagenarian dad are playing Pokemon Go, we should experiment. Obesity and inactivity are some of the largest public health ills plaguing our country. What if supporting Pokemon Go rewards worked? We spend so much money on silly projects in America every year. Spending $50 million on special Pokemon Go rewards for physical activity makes tons of sense. The US Government should pay you to play Pokemon Go. Contact your Congressman today and suggest the idea to them. It might actually be a smart use of taxpayer resources.