A new app is doing what years of nanny state programs and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars failed to do – get people outside, on their feet and living healthier lifestyles.
Pokemon GO was released only last Wednesday and is already the most popular mobile application on iPhone and Android.
The game puts players in aug-mented reality, based on real world maps, where they can search for and discover Pokemon. Players can also collect items and battle each other.
Here is the catch: you cannot stand still. The game requires players to get active, to leave their homes and walk the streets to find additional Pokemon and gyms (where you battle other players).
Traditionally, the wowsers told us that video games make us fat, now the opposite is coming true.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 44 per cent of Australian adults do not get sufficient physical activity, and 63 per cent are overweight or obese. Despite rising expenditure on public health efforts, the obesity rate has not changed in the past five years, and has increased from 56 per cent in 1995.
The nanny state response has been to propose paternalistic, illiberal, and largely in-effective means to force change in human behaviour. It has sought taxes on soft drinks, bans on junk-food advertising, graphic warning labels for unhealthy food and subsidies for gym memberships.
All these efforts pale in comparison with the impact Pokemon GO has had in just the past week.
Players are walking kilometres they would otherwise not have done, playing the game for hours and hours at a time.
Thousands of Australians are getting active, thanks to an ingenious new mobile application, not some grand government scheme.
Users have also reported the fun and excitement of the game is also helping their mental health.
Pokemon GO is the perfect case of the market satisfying both a personal need – entertainment – with an added social benefit, that is encouraging a more healthy lifestyle.
This is not the first time the market has helped address health issues.
Fitbits count steps and encourage wearers to set targets, with the added enticement of competition among friends.
Supermarkets now have special health food sections, providing customers with more options than ever before to improve their lifestyles.
We also have gyms dotted throughout our cities and suburbs to help people exercise.
The market produces countless individual and wider benefits, helping make the world a better place.
The USB flash drive is not just a helpful file transfer tool, it has saved more trees than Greenpeace.
E-cigarettes provide a substantially healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products, helping people quit the old habit.
And in the not-too-distant future self-driving cars have the potential to help reduce road fatalities to near zero.
Rather than focusing on how a government program can help address a social problem, we should think about the power of private initiatives to help humanity.
The market has extraordinary capacity to deliver us not only the goods and services we want and need today, but to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship that makes the world a better place.
This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on the 13th of July, 2016.