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“Desk Dining” Has Downsides for Health and Nutrition

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Thousands of Americans do it every day: have lunch at their work desk.

According to the American Dietetic Association, a majority of Americans do not have time for a regular lunch break. In fact, the ADA estimates that as many as 70 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desk several times per week.

According to Kelsa Ferguson, field specialist in nutrition with University of Missouri Extension, “desk dining” has its own set of health and nutrition downsides. “For starters, if you eat at your desk you want to make sure you are not the only living creature eating there,” said Ferguson.

A study conducted by Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona found lots of bacteria in offices. In fact, offices typically have 100 times more bacteria than on a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. The places with the most germs, in order, are phones, desktops and keyboards.

“Keep in mind, if you eat at your desk, you are contributing food for bacteria to thrive,” said Ferguson. “To prevent growth and spreading of germs and bacteria, clean your phone, work area and keyboard often to decrease exposure to these potential illness-causing bacteria.”

Ferguson suggests using a disinfecting or sanitizing solution. A damp cloth only spreads the germs around. It is also a good idea to frequently wash your hands. From a nutritional standpoint, Ferguson says “desktop dining” is potentially an unhealthy habit. “If you are working at your computer desk, you may overeat by not paying attention to the amount of food you are eating,” said Ferguson. People who eat at their desk may also be in such a hurry that they just grab something quick from a vending machine. Those types of foods don’t represent healthy choices. “Eating at your desk also means your body doesn’t get the chance to move around,” said Ferguson. Ferguson says it is possible to be healthy by enjoying “desktop dining.” But, doing so takes time. “You really should wipe down your desk area before and after you eat to keep the germs away. Then, plan for your desktop dining experience,” said Ferguson. For example, Ferguson recommends planning and preparing your lunches at home. This lets a person pack the correct portion size (to prevent overeating) and allows a person to plan a well-rounded meal that contains protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Make sure you store that lunch in the refrigerator. Food stored at room temperature can grow harmful bacteria. If you store food around your desk, make sure it is packaged well so that you do not invite crawling pests to your area,” said Ferguson. For more information on nutrition contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri: Kelsa Ferguson in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lindsey Gordon Stevenson in Barton County at (417) 682-3579; Stephanie Johnson in Howell County at (417) 256-2391 or Mary Sebade in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551. The regional office of the Family Nutrition Education Program is located in Springfield and can be reached at (417) 886-2059. Nutrition information is also available online