The 5 health risks of eating lunch at your desk

Woman eating lunch at her desk. (Getty Images)
Eight in 10 of us are having lunch at our desk. (Getty Images)

It's almost lunch time and while you know you should head out for a break, the reality will likely be a BLT sandwich from Pret as you respond to emails between bites.

If all that sounds achingly familiar you're definitely amongst friends with new research revealing a whopping eight in 10 of us are having lunch 'al-desko' because they are too busy and have nowhere else to eat it.

Researchers found 82% consume their middle of the day meal at their desk at least once during a typical week, with 46% doing so most days.

Nearly one in five (18%) of the 2,000 workers polled don’t have anywhere else to eat at a table, citing their desk as the next best option.

Even though 89% agree it is important to take time away, six in 10 skip taking a dedicated lunch break altogether.

Those who do step away from their workstation spend just 32 minutes away, even though over half (52%) claim they feel refreshed after a moment away from their desk.

The OnePoll figures, commissioned by Lipton Ice Tea, also found 38% feel the need to take a break to escape their screens, while 31% require time to recharge.

Despite 43% saying they are much more productive when they step away from their work and eat lunch elsewhere, over a third (36%) fear modern society and working culture is encouraging people to power through and not make time for lunch.

The problem is there can be some pretty extensive health risks of not taking a break at lunch, both physically and mentally.

Female working eating lunch at her desk. (Getty Images)
There are some health risks of having lunch at your desk every day. (Getty Images)

Poor digestion

Eating mindlessly i.e. eating lunch at your desk prevents the brain from engaging in the very first phase of digestion known as the cephalic phase.

"This is where the brain engages with the thoughts to expect food and as a result starts to stimulate the digestive system," explains Jenna Hope, nutritionist and Author of How To Stay Healthy.

"Eating mindlessly can prevent this stage from being fully activated which means your food is not broken down as efficiently."

As a result, Hope says bits of partially digested food can enter the gut.

"Larger food particles can’t be absorbed through the gut lining and therefore this can contribute to bloating, flatulence and over a prolonged period of time, damage to the gut lining too," she continues.

"When we damage the gut lining we’re less likely to be able to fully absorb the nutrients from our foods which can increase the risk of nutrient deficiency."

Delays release of 'I'm full' hormones

Eating mindlessly can also delay the release of satiety hormones such as leptin and GLP-1. "This means we’re less likely to feel full and satisfied if we’re eating mindlessly at our desk than when we’re fully engaged with our food," Hope explains.

And of course if you don't feel full you're likely to reach for the afternoon snacks, which could in turn lead to weight gain.

Eye strain

It is important for the health of the eyes to take regular breaks from any screen usage, especially computers and mobile phones. "A lunch break away from the desk provides a natural rest for your eyes from straining to look at a screen," explains Mr Shafiq Rehman, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at eye hospital group.

“Computer Vision Syndrome is now a valid eye condition, and can dry eyes out. This is because we focus so hard that we forget to blink. When on computers and screens we only blink three or four times a minute rather than the normal 20 to 30."

Mr Rehman says break at lunch is vital as too much screen time can lead to eye strain.

“Eye strain can lead to blurred vision, sore and tired eyes red eyes, headaches and even double vision," he explains.

“It is vital to take breaks and we recommend the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer screen to a distance of 20 feet for 20 seconds."

Woman at desk with digestion issues. (Getty Images)
Eating at your desk can impact digestion. (Getty Images)


We all know the working day can be stressful, but eating lunch at your desk can make it even more so. If you don’t take time out, you never take the time to recover, which can lead to higher levels of burnout.

"Psychologically, the lack of a clear separation between work zones and relaxation zones can diminish the psychological detaching from work-related stress, leading to heightened levels of cortisol, the stress hormone," explains Dr Joseph Ambani.

Reduced productivity

You may think you're increasing your work efforts by cracking on while you chow down on your sarnie, but in fact eating at your desk could have the opposite effect.

"The persistent stress [caused by not taking a break] can impair cognitive functions such as focus, memory, and critical thinking," explains Dr Ambani. "This is turn can negatively affect mental health, increasing feelings of burnout and reduced job satisfaction."

Additional reporting SWNS.