The U.S. economy grew at a healthy 3.7 percent annual rate in the third quarter this year, bolstered by strong consumer spending and accompanied by the lowest inflation in decades, the Commerce Department (search) said on Friday.

The third-quarter expansion in gross domestic product (search) — the measure of total output within the nation's borders — came in below Wall Street economists' forecasts for a 4.2 percent pace of growth but still was up from 3.3 percent in the second quarter.

It was one of the final pieces of economic data before Tuesday's U.S. presidential election in which the economy's condition has been a focal point, and indicated generally that a solid expansion remains in place.

Consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of economic activity, increased at the fastest rate in a year while a price gauge that is favored by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (search) — the index of personal consumption expenditures minus food and energy — barely increased at a 0.7 percent rate. That was the smallest gain in this price measure in nearly 42 years, since a 0.5 percent rise in the fourth quarter of 1962, department officials said.