by Albert Arevalo, Latino Outdoors Ambassador
Growing up in a household where both parents brought in little income meant that instead of playing with toys I would need to rely on my imagination for entertainment. My neighbors would prove to be more than just childhood friends; they would become my outdoor explorer companions. We would spend hours playing in el monte, aka the woods, and pretend that the evil witch from the Power Rangers was out there chasing after us. But as the sun would set, we would migrate indoors and continue playing but now on the PlayStation. That Christmas, my parents surprised me with my own atomic clear purple Gameboy and a Pokémon Yellow game. Now I could do it all, be an outdoor explorer and own my own game console.
Never would I have imagined two of my favorite childhood pass times crossing paths, but just last week Nintendo allowed me the opportunity to experience the hybrid of both.
Twenty years later, the games, the cartoons, and the memories continue to allow me to relive some of my favorite childhood years. I can only speculate, but the creators of Pokémon GO, may have created an answer to the epidemic that is plaguing the Latino communities—nature deficiency and obesity.
With Latinos being one of the fastest growing minorities in the U.S., we are seeing similar growth in obesity trends. Being that Latinos make up 17% of the total US population, more than 77% of Latino adults are overweight or obese, and 38.9% of Latino children are overweight or obese.1 Additionally, only 8% of Latinos engage in outdoor recreation.2
Though obesity is a chronic problem caused by several external variables, two common causes that may result in obesity are physical inactivity and overeating.3 An additional challenge that may add to obesity is individuals not going outside because of lack of transportation to outdoor spaces and competition with indoor entertainment.
Initiatives like Latino Conservation Week aim to engage Latino communities in public lands, create opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, break down barriers, and become allies in defending our natural places.
So cue Pokémon GO: this app is integrating technology with nature. Within its first week the much anticipated Pokémon GO App has become a must have for die-hard fans and new Pokémon enthusiasts alike.As the National Park Service celebrates its Centennial Anniversary, Director Jon Jarvis and fellow park rangers spoke about the opportunities this game has in reconnecting visitors to their public lands.3 Ranger Ollig, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said:
“You can catch some Pokémon, you can learn about the sites and the memorials on the National Mall, and come back with a really meaningful experience,” he said. “As long as you’re safe and respectful of other visitors, come on out here and catch as many as you can.”4
The app even encourages people to put in work by walking a certain number of kilometers to hatch Pokémon eggs. Aside from that, you can’t catch any Pokémon or gain control of a gym by staying stationary. This game motivates users to discover the outdoors spaces that are all over their own neighborhoods.
Pokemon GO’s unique gameplay even aligns with local Washington D.C. initiatives, such as DC Park PX’s short-term goal to:
“Prescribe NATURE to patients and families to encourage outside time in one of 350 green spaces/parks rated in Washington, DC.”
And their long-term goals to:
“Decrease impact of non-communicable chronic disease like obesity, asthma, and mental health disorders AND create the next generation of environmental stewards.”5
With resources like DC Park PX park locator, DC residents could potentially access local green spaces or parks that are closer than they think.This or future apps may have the potential of reducing a public health problem while also allowing us to reconnect to our public lands. The popularity of this app could potentially spark a new trend in active apps that take the user’s outdoors. What makes this experience so unique is that it allows users to experience the digital world while being active in public spaces.
While more research into gameplay and nature is still needed, I can only dream for avid game users or technology enthusiast to integrate nature into their schedule — especially my Latino family. As I reflect on my youth, I come to realize what conservation means to me: living a simplistic life while enjoying and accessing our public lands. This game has provided an introduction to the outdoors to many individuals who otherwise may have not have connected. While the game does make you visit outdoor spaces, I encourage you all to search for events on LatinoConservationWeek.com to explore and enjoy parks in a unique way. And as you continue to explore our parks for the rarest of Pokémon, please remember to LOOK UP from your screen and enjoy the outdoors.
Albert Arevalo is a Latino Outdoors Ambassador in Washington D.C. and an Outreach Coordinator for GRID Alternatives. He loves to play tennis, hike, tweet on behalf of @PetTurtleOliver, and play kickball.
For the third consecutive year, Latino Outdoors joins Hispanic Access Foundation and multiple other organizations across the country to celebrate Latino Conservation Week (LCW), July 16 to July 24.