MC senior has research published in national journal

MC senior has research published in national journal

Sept. 25, 2018

The research of Maryville College senior Colby Beach ’19 was accepted for publication in July and will be available to read in the February 2019 issue of Games for Health Journal.

“The Physical Activity Patterns of Greenway Users Playing Pokémon Go: A Natural Experiment,” marks the first time a Maryville College exercise science major has been published in a national scholarly publication. The College introduced the major in 2012, and Beach’s article represents two years’ worth of work.

The idea for Beach’s research grew out of data collected as part of a Senior Study on usage of the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway System conducted by exercise science major Gabrielle Billstrom ’17. As a sophomore research assistant during the summer of 2016, Beach joined Billstrom and Assistant Professors of Exercise Science Dr. Jeremy Steeves and Dr. Jennifer Oody when they set up tents along the greenway to stop and observe passers-by.

(Billstrom, Steeves and Oody are listed as co-authors of the article.) 

“We’d go out there, and any time we’d see people going by, we’d talk to them, get them to answer a survey that was part of the original study, but also see if they’d be willing to wear a monitor,” Beach said. “We put [the monitors] on people that tracked the intensity of their physical activity. The scale goes from very light to vigorous intensity activity.”

According to Steeves, Pokémon Go, the augmented reality mobile game, had just caught on in East Tennessee when they started the greenway data collection. Billstrom’s original research question aimed to quantify how active a typical greenway user might be while walking on the greenway. But through this unplanned natural experiment, “we ended up having enough people wearing monitors playing Pokémon Go that we were able to conduct an analysis to compare their activity levels to greenway users who walked and jogged along the greenway (non-Pokémon Go players),” Beach said.

Beach found that those playing Pokémon Go on the greenway walked at a slower pace and stopped more often compared to other walkers. They were consistently placed in the “light” intensity activity category, while non-Pokémon Go players consistently registered health-enhancing moderate intensity activity.

“The thing with Pokémon Go is these people will walk maybe 20 steps and then stop to catch a Pokémon using their phone,” he said. “You get aerobic steps where you’re starting to breathe a little harder and your heart rate goes up, and these players are getting significantly less of those [aerobic steps].”

After completing the study, Beach determined that while Pokémon Go was not an effective mechanism by which to maintain continuous bouts of moderate intensity exercise, it was still better than nothing at all.

“It’s a stepping stone for people to become physically active because it’s bridging a gap for people who might usually be sedentary or stay inside,” he said.

Research continues

The submission to Games for Health Journal does not mark the first time Beach, a 2015 graduate of Aloca High School, has synthesized this research for other scholars. In February 2017, he gave a poster presentation titled “The Pokémon Go Phenomena May Promote Unique Physical Activity Patterns” at the Southeast Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Greenville, S.C. Two months later, he presented the same poster at the College’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Beyond publication, Beach recognizes the personal value and significance of his work, which he sees as a huge step toward achieving his education and career goals. Following graduation in May, he plans to attend graduate school and earn a master’s degree in public health.

Although his research has already been published, Beach said it is far from finished. For his Senior Study, he will transition from collecting observational data to conducting a controlled experiment to explore the impact of playing Pokémon go on greenway-related physical activity. His thesis will involve randomly assigning participants to a 30-minute Pokémon Go walking condition and a 30-minute walking condition on separate days to compare a variety of physical activity outcomes between walkers while playing Pokémon Go or not.

Steeves affirmed that when it comes to research, answering one question almost always leads to another, just like stepping stones. He explained that this gives researchers the purposeful goal of progressing the science and serves to challenge and prepare students for the future.

“[Research] sets our students’ expectations higher and completing the process gives them the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that makes them realize they’re capable of more than they thought,” Steeves said. “Having to rely on a wide variety of skills learned at Maryville College, these research experiences truly are a capstone of our students’ academic career.”

According to Beach, in a nation where one of the greatest challenges has become sedentary living and an inactive lifestyle, Pokémon Go is at the forefront of activity-based engagement and exercise. At Maryville College, programs like Exercise is Medicine® on Campus and Fit. Green. Happy.® are assuming prominence, he said.

Beach and his research will continue to provide a better understanding for promoting a more active lifestyle, which is a key component of a healthy and successful future.

Written by Jared Crain for Maryville College.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”