A new study has shed light on how new-media technology, including the Internet and smart phones, are changing college students' eating habits and their relationship to food.
Some 70% of Americans eat at their desks several times a week, according to the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods Foundation.
The bad news is that this can lead not only to poor nutritional choices, but to food-safety problems as well.
"The desk was not designed to be an eating place," says Rick Hall, RD, MS, a faculty member at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "So spending your lunch hour in front of your computer brings with it a number of issues.""
The findings by Rochester Institute of Technology indicate that individuals are more likely to have meals while sitting at the computer than at the kitchen table, and that they use social media as the main avenue to obtain recipe and nutritional information.
"I sought to investigate how the explosion of new media is changing traditional notions of meals and how this is transforming human interaction," noted Madeline Varno, a senior communications major at RIT and principle author of the study.
"As opposed to their parents or grandparents, college students do not see meals as a central activity in and of itself, either for enjoyment or communication. In fact none of the respondents I interviewed even had a kitchen table."
Varno conducted an extensive survey of college students at RIT, which assessed how meals were prepared and eaten, how students interacted with others during meals and how they obtained information about nutrition, potential food choices and recipes. It also assessed the importance of meals in students' social lives.
One of the biggest drawbacks to eating at your desk is that you're not focused on your food. Instead, you're sending e-mail, answering the phone, shuffling paper -- the perfect recipe for overeating.
"Eating at your desk encourages mindless eating, and overeating," says Susan Moores, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "You're most likely multitasking and not paying attention to the amount of food you're eating."
"Eating is now just one of several activities being multitasked at once, all of which generally involve computers and smart phones, including surfing the Web, communicating with friends via Facebook and doing homework."
"This does not mean that students are any less social; in fact, they are often interacting with more people than if they were sitting in a dining room, but the method of that socialization is now directly connected to new media."
Varno also found that people were more likely to ask friends on Facebook or Twitter about recipes than consult a cookbook and often used social media to assess the relevance and validity of food and nutrition information.
"While some respondents expressed concern at the sheer volume of food information available online, they also indicated that the use of Facebook and Twitter to quickly validate data made them feel more informed about making the right choices," added Varno.