Like most mothers, Kelly Hagan, of Ventnor, wears many hats in her family and finds it hard to stop everything to eat lunch.
Hagan, 37, is married and the mother of four girls ranging from age 9 to six months. Hagan co-owns the screen printing business American Youth Enterprise in Mays Landing with her husband, Dave. When Hagan works outside the home, she doesn't have time to either leisurely take an hourlong lunch break or even a half-hour quickie away from her desk.
"Everyday, Monday to Friday, I can't think of the last time I ate somewhere other than our own business," said Hagan, who usually brings in a sandwich, yogurt and a juice box to eat lunch at her desk.
According to a Gallup poll, two-thirds of American workers eat at their desks more than once per week. When it comes to aromatic foods that draw complaints in an office, microwave popcorn tends to lead the list, according to the nonprofit employer association, MRA. Other foods that irritate co-workers include meatloaf, bacon and sauerkraut, surveys have found.
Arthur Robert Tubbs is the principal/lead person of Charter-Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point.
Tubbs, 57, of Audubon, Camden County, picks up soup and a sandwich or a salad for lunch almost every day from the ShopRite supermarket located no more than 15 minutes from his office. Tubbs typically eats at his desk every day. The key for Tubbs is to be very neat and not make a mess. He said eating at the desk is fairly common for employees in the main office at the school.
"Eating at my desk allows me to keep working and stay in the game. I allow myself a half hour, but many times I'm done in 20 minutes," Tubbs said.
Jennifer Davis, a registered dietitian for Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House said the health impact of eating at your desk depends on how you approach it. If you are not paying attention while eating, you might end up eating more than you intended because your brain was not given enough time to tell the body that it is full.
"If you are distracted while you are eating, you might get called away from your desk, and the food sits there and goes bad," Davis said.
There are two ways eating at the desk can be positive, Davis said. There can be a health benefit derived from a person eating small, healthy meals frequently at their desks, Davis said. Also, if a person is really busy, and they are deciding to skip lunch rather than leave and pick something up, it would be better to eat at the desk under those circumstances, she said.
"People who are hungrier tend to be more impulsive in their food choices. We have all gotten hungry and overeaten," Davis said.
Bridget Farrell, director of infection prevention at Cape Regional Medical Center, said the problem of people eating at their desk is they forget to clean their work station. Most people don't clean their desk, phone and keyboard, which hold germs, Farrell said.
"You pick up germs from the place you least expect it," said Farrell, who advises people to wash their hands before they sit down to eat lunch at their desk.
Corey DiLuciano, food service system director at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, oversees all the food services at the hospital for the cafeteria, patients' feeding and catering. If people are eating at their desks, they should at least use a plate from home, so they are giving themselves regular-size portions and not overeating, DiLuciano said.
"Eating at the desk can be positive if you plan ahead and pack," said DiLuciano, who prefers people leave their work area to eat. "My argument is get a break and be more productive."
Paul Kelly, vice president of broadcast operations at Longport Media in Linwood, has his own office. Kelly leaves his door open for his 10-minute lunch break that he takes at his desk. One of Kelly's co-workers will make a remark if they walk by his door and catch him mid-bite. Kelly finds himself too busy most of the time to do anything but eat at his desk four out of five days per week. Kelly usually brings something in. If Kelly has time, he heads to Boston Market in nearby Somers Point. When Kelly is really crunched for time, he pops into the 7-Eleven next door.
"This is fairly common. I don't know if people take a lunch hour. I've been doing it since I started working full time in radio 20 years ago," said Kelly, 40.
Carol Asselta, managing partner at AKziom Consulting in Millville, a full-service human resources and management consulting company, said most businesses do not address the issue of eating at the desk or make a policy about it.
"Some organizations don't want paperwork with food on it," Asselta said. "There is usually no policy unless there is a business need for a policy."
Asselta advocates that people not eat their lunch at their desks for several reasons. Lunch is more enjoyable away from the work area. A little bit of a break rejuvenates the mind and the body. It gives a person a chance to socialize with colleagues.
"It's a growing issue. More and more people are staying at their desk," Asselta said. "With a break, cognitive abilities could be a little better and more innovative."
Newsday contributed to this report
Contact Vincent Jackson: