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Advertising Age reports that a new study by Research Inter-national USA suggests that despite concerns and headlines about America’s burgeoning obesity problem, fast food remains extremely popular…and is unlikely to lose any of its appeal during a recession.

Among the data compiled by the study: The average American spends $500 a year on fast food, with half of all Americans eating fast food once a week. A whopping 20 percent of Americans eat fast food every other day, and 14 percent of Americans generate almost half of all fast food sales. And, more than two-thirds of all fast food customers get their meals to go.

Ad Age notes that “contrary to perceptions that fast food is the poor man's choice, frequent users are typically male, below middle age and employed, with high incomes averaging $67,575 -- 15% higher than the sample group's average household income of $58,875.

“Restaurants that offer new menu options or promotions, but also make efforts to improve the healthfulness of their menu, are attractive to these frequent users, who are more likely to increase consumption because of career pressures or appealing ‘value’ dining options.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun Times this morning reports on a new study saying that while 16 percent of American children between the ages of two and 9 are clinically obese, the good news is that the number didn’t go up between 1996 and 2006.

That by itself could be considered a victory, since childhood obesity rates are triple what they were in 1980…and experts say that this could be evidence that some of the publicity given to obesity rates actually is having some impact.

"There's some cause for cautious optimism here," Cynthia Ogden, the study's lead author and an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, tells the Sun Times. "It's a good thing it's not going up, but we still have a lot of work to do."

KC's View:
It would be a mistake to get complacent about obesity rates, especially because tough economic times could prompt a lot of people to indulge in more fast food, in part because they perceive it as being cheap and in pat because they find it to be comforting.

This ought to be target one for supermarkets and other food stores – enticing those customers to spurn fast food for a better, more nutritious food experience.