Slow and steady wins the race: Pok

AMES, Iowa -- When it comes to walking and pedometers, it pays to be pokey -- better yet, a Pokéwalker. That's according to a new Iowa State University study that tested step-counting devices for accuracy.

The Pokéwalker (left) -- a pedometer that translates total steps into experience points in its corresponding Pokémon video game -- had substantially reduced step-counting error in the study compared to both a standard DigiWalker pedometer and a Sensewear armband as walking speed on a treadmill increased. However, all three devices showed a high degree of error when compared to manual counting at slower speeds.

Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an ISU assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, led the study, which measured the step accuracy of each method among 22 children and eight adults who walked for a timed interval at four speeds on a treadmill. She presented the results this week at the Experimental Biology 2011 conference in Washington D.C.

"In comparing all those measures, the Pokéwalker did very well," said Lanningham-Foster, who researches the measurable health benefits of active video games. "It's very accurate and precise. So as a tool that can be used to actually change behavior and a child can use to truly understand and learn about how much they're walking, it could be a good tool."

Iowa State research assistants Randal Foster, Megan Barnes, Elsa Kracke, Samantha Kling and Maren Vik also collaborated on the study.

When Lanningham-Foster first learned about Pokéwalker last spring, she became intrigued in studying its value as a new activity tool for kids -- particularly since it was designed to run on the Nintendo DS system.

"Our study was first to see how well the device works," she said. "As part of the work I do, I'm constantly testing different pedometers and devices just to see how well they work because if we want to use something to encourage someone to change their behavior, wouldn't it be good if it worked?

"The thing I like about it [Pokéwalker] is it's another format and a lot of kids have Nintendo DS. So it could just be one more avenue if they have the Wii at home or an Xbox 360," Lanningham-Foster said. "Often times, when I survey people, they have multiple gaming formats, and so this could just be another avenue for them to be involved in active gaming."

She says her Experimental Biology presentation is just the first step in the team's ongoing research on the Pokéwalker. They are also studying how the game impacted the number of steps each family member walked before and after they were given the game.

While they are still compiling those results, Lanningham-Foster says as expected, kids seemed to take to the Pokéwalker more than adults.

"Pokémon is a big toy for kids," she continued. "And that's why I was so interested in it is the idea that we have yet another active gaming format for kids."

The research is being funded by and conducted through ISU's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center.