1 in 2 Americans visits so-called quick service restaurants (QSR) twice a month, 29% visit 3-5 times a month, and 16% visit 6 or more times a month.

Taco Bell sponsored the America’s Drive-Thru Survey and found that 7 in 10 Americans think having better choices in drive-thru’s would encourage them to eat better.

Only 50% of Americans believe they can stick to a low-calorie diet while ordering through drive-thru’s. 9 in 10 would try better choices of their favorite menu items if they were offered.

Taco Bell generates 70% of its business via drive-thru.

This press release explains the restaurant chain’s new Drive-Thru Diet menu, with seven “Fresco-style” choices each with less than nine grams of fat, according to Taco Bell.

The survey was conducted by phone between December 28, 2009 and January 3, 2010, among 1,002 Americans, 18 and older, who visited a drive-thru at least once in the past six months.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Let me disclose two biases: first, I am a long-time member of Slow Food, the international organization devoted to all-food-locavore. Second, I’ve been carrying around a copy of Michael Pollan‘s new Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual for the past week.

I applaud the efforts of fast-food outlets who are working to respond to the public’s demand for healthy (well, healthier) food. There is evidence that posting calories on menus can make a difference in health citizens making healthier food choices at the point-of-purchase.

In the case of Taco Bell, the poster child for their ‘diet’ campaign is Christine Dougherty, who tells her personal story of losing 54 pounds over two years while frequenting Taco Bell. See the website Taco Bell’s Drive-Thru-Diet for more on Christine and Taco Bell’s campaign.

As Huffington Post asked, “Has Taco Bell found their own Jared?” alluding to Subway’s health-ful market positioning enlisting regular guy Jared Fogle who ate his way down by 100 pounds of eating Subway sandwiches for lunch and dinner over 3 months. Look for lots of TV and print ads to support Taco Bell’s campaign in the coming weeks. According to Advertising Age, Taco Bell has purchased ad time for at least one 30-second spot during the SuperBowl XLIV, but it will be promoting the Spicy Chicken Enchilada platter (under Yum Brands).

Michael Pollan argues in his concise primer a few Rules to keep in mind; here are a few among many that relate quite directly to the quick service restaurant milieu:

1. It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
2. Avoid foods you see advertised on TV.
3. Eat foods made from ingredients you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.
4. Do all your eating at a table.

5. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

I get the pull of drive-thru: 30% of visits are by people with kids, and mine has to eat a quick meal between school, theatre practice, and fencing drills at least once a week. But Michael Pollan’s Rules will keep us on the straight, narrow and healthy. I highly recommend Food Rules to Christine, Jared, and you.

On a separate, sadder note, I send my sincere, deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, who passed away on January 16, 2010.