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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 91

Violation of food advertising regulations in Iran: A systematic review

1 Department of Nutrition Research, National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute, Faculty of Nutrition Sciences and Food Technology, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
2 Food and Nutrition Policy and Planning Research, National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute, Faculty of Nutrition Sciences and Food Technology, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
3 Library, National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute, Faculty of Nutrition Sciences and Food Technology, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Date of Submission24-Feb-2022
Date of Acceptance15-Jun-2022
Date of Web Publication15-Jul-2023

Correspondence Address:
Delaram Ghodsi
No. 7., Hafezi St., Farahzadi Blvd., Qods Town, Zip Code: 1981619573, P.O.Box: 19395-4741, Tehran
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijpvm.ijpvm_509_21

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Background: The prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the status of nutritionally high-risk behaviors in the country are not promising. Because of undeniable impact of media advertising on food choices, to combat the problem some regulations on food advertisements are developed in the country. However, the high prevalence of NCDs warns of the possibility that either the laws are not given the necessary attention or they are not implemented properly. Therefore in the present review, all studies on how the country's visual and written mass media comply with regulations related to food product advertisement were systematically reviewed. Methods: We searched all studies, including Persian and English articles, dissertations, and research projects, published and unpublished reports in eight domestic and international databases and search engines during the years 1996 to December of 2020 (25 years). Then, the content of the eligible studies was extracted, evaluated, and reported. Results: A total of 18 eligible studies (articles and reports) were included in the review. The results indicated violations of rules and regulations including displaying food products of low nutritional value and obese people, misleading/exaggerating claims, award offers, induction of gluttony, consumerism, and inconsistency with scientific facts. Most of the studies (55%) had, implicitly or explicitly, targeted children and adolescents. Conclusions: The results of this study indicated a violation of the rules and regulations of health policies, mainly in the field of promoting foods of low nutritional value during the study period. Violations of the ban on advertising for children were also reported in more than half of the studies.

Keywords: Advertisement, food products, health policy, health regulation, mass media, systematic review

How to cite this article:
Amini M, Ghodsi D, Zargaraan A, Alibeyk S, Hajigholam-Saryazdi M. Violation of food advertising regulations in Iran: A systematic review. Int J Prev Med 2023;14:91

How to cite this URL:
Amini M, Ghodsi D, Zargaraan A, Alibeyk S, Hajigholam-Saryazdi M. Violation of food advertising regulations in Iran: A systematic review. Int J Prev Med [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 27];14:91. Available from: https://www.ijpvmjournal.net/text.asp?2023/14/1/91/381724

  Background Top

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are among the leading causes of death in the world.[1] According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they cause 41 million deaths annually, which is equivalent to 71% of the world's total deaths.With regards to the mortality rate cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes rank the first to fourth, respectively, and nutrition is directly related to three of them.[2] In other words, improving nutrition can lead to a noticeable reduction in the mortality resulted by NCDs.

Processed foods are potentially contributing factors to the increasing prevalence of NCDs; therefore it is not surprising that their manufacturers were being referred to as the “vectors of the NCD epidemic”.[3]

To confront NCDs, there are some recommendations on less consumption of sugar, salt, and fat. To achieve this, there are two main solutions, including either reduction of the nutritional risk factors in industrial food products or empowering consumers to choose healthier food products by themselves.[4],[5] In this regard, the food industry may reformulate products in a way to decrease their sugar, salt, and fat content. On the other hand, the consumers should be educated to limit consumption of dietary risk factors.

There is a body of documents that imply that exposure to advertisements can influence consumption of foods.[6],[7],[8] Regarding the unique and undeniable role of advertisements on food choice, many countries have regulations on broadcasting food advertisements.

In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mainly in charge of prohibitions against misleading food advertisements and its responsibility of regulating such advertisements is under the FTC Act. When the FTC detects a violation in an advertisement, it can make a formal complaint against the accused company or issue a monetary penalty.[9]

In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the responsibility of establishing public interest obligation for TV broadcasters.[10] Action for Children's Television (ACT) also urged the FCC and FTC to prohibit or limit advertising directed at children.[11] In this regard, the amount of commercial time during children's programming is limited to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.[12] According to the European Union (EU) Country Commercial Guide, nutrition and health claims are only allowed on food labels if they are included in one of the EU's positive lists.[13] Approximately half of the countries from the EU region report taking legal steps toward limiting the advertising of foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, free sugars, and/or salt (HFSS) to children.[14] The advertising industry in Australia is expected to adhere to the Code of Ethics which was set out by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA).[15] In Asian and African countries, some practices and codes of advertising standards have been reported as well.[16],[17] For example, Ethiopia has passed the law to regulate promotion of breast milk substitute since 2016.[18] According to some regulations on the broadcasting time for children and youth in Thailand, advertisement of harmful products such as fried or baked potato, extruded snacks, crackers, biscuits, and wafer on TV must have a warning message with clear sound and text for at least five seconds.[19]

Iran is no exception. According to the Regulation on the Establishment and Monitoring of the Work and Activity of Advertising Centers (1978) Note Ch, article 12, any form of marketing specified for children is banned.[20] Based on the Protection of Consumers' Rights (2009), featuring children in the advertisements of goods has been prohibited and untruth advertising that mislead consumers has been forbidden.[21] According to article 37 of the Fifth Development Plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran (2011–2015), in order to deal with health risk factors the Ministry of Health is obliged to announce the list of actions and goods that harm health and potentially abusive drugs annually. Pursuant to the article, the advertising of health-threatening services and products, a list of which are determined and announced annually by a working group, is prohibited by all mass media. Based on the note provided for this article, non-compliance with the provisions of the article shall be subject to a fine with the order of the competent judicial authorities. In case of repetition, for each time at least 20% of the fine is added to the previous one.[22]

Considering all aspects, although the current policies have been adopted to prevent and control NCDs,[23] the figures and evidence of the state of health in the country are not promising, indicating their inefficiency. Therefore, in the current study compliance of visual and written mass media with regulations of food advertising in Iran during a period of 25 years (1996 to 2020) was systematically reviewed. To better understand the nature of the advertisements, scientific validity of the advertising messages was also evaluated.

  Methods Top

The review was guided by the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) statement.[24] In the first step, the results of all relevant studies, including dissertations and research projects, published and unpublished Persian and English reports on the content of food advertisements in the mass media of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the years 1996 to 2020 were investigated. The National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute (NNFTRI) ethical committee (IR.SBMU.NNFTRI.REC.1396.179) approved the study. Searching the database and selection of the resource are shown in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Flowchart of document selection process

Click here to view

Literature search

Two librarians (SA and MH) separately searched within the national and international databases and search engines including Scientific Information Database (SID), Civilica, IRANDOC, Magiran, Google, PubMed, Scopus, and ISI/Web of Science (WOS). To obtain documents of research projects as well as dissertations at the Research Center of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a senior nutritionist visited the desired locations.

Inclusion criteria

All Persian or English studies related to the research topic including original research articles, narrative or systematic reviews, policy briefs, published or unpublished reports, news, and dissertations which were published during the study period were included in the review.

Search strategy

We used “market*”, “advertis*”, “tv”,:televis*”, “media”, “magaz*”, “commerc*”, “radio*”, “broadcast*”, “food*”, “eat*”, “drink*”, “snack*”, “biscuit*”, “cracker*”, “chips”, “junk*”, “health*”, “unhealth*”, “content*”, “polic*”, “regul*”, “viol*”, “preferenc*”, “iran*” in two languages singly and/or in combination using AND and OR operators. Furthermore, authors who were likely to have similar publications were contacted and reference lists of all included articles were reviewed to search for additional studies.


To determine the relevant articles, after completing the library search and data collection all the titles and abstracts of the search were first read independently by three members (MA, AZ, and D.Gh) of the review team. Full articles were evaluated by two authors (MA and AZ), separately. Disagreements were discussed to reach a consensus.

Critical appraisal

After inclusion of the articles, two authors independently evaluated them with the help of a researcher-made tool [Table A5 as supplementary file] for which special emphasis was on the methodology and the objectives of the documents. Any disagreement was resolved via discussion. The items of the researcher-made tool included “title of the study”, “first author's name”, and some questions including “Are the policies related to food advertising in Iran explained in the findings?”, “ Are the findings clear and in line with the objectives of the study?”, “ Has a full explanation been given on how to record data (commercial messages/advertisements)?”,” Are the study and sampling method suitable for achieving the goals?”, “Has the method of conducting the study and collecting data been fully explained?”, and “Is the purpose of the research well stated?”.

Data extraction

Information of all articles were extracted by MA according to [Table 1]. As shown in the table, the extracted information included “first author's name”, “resource type”, “purpose of the study”, “target group”, “data collection tool(s) and analysis method”, “examples of violation of regulation(s)/scientific fact(s)”, “conclusion of the study”, and “comment”. To define violation of regulations in the present study, we relied on the definitions mentioned in each study, and the related information are presented in the column of “Examples of violation of regulation(s)/scientific fact(s)” in [Table 1]. The examples of violation mainly included depiction of banned or harmful food products, using overweight characters, claiming that the food products were superior to natural healthy samples (e.g., superiority of ice cream over human milk), and false or misleading messages (without scientific validity) for promoting food products. Data of “comment” column was derived by the researcher-made tool which was mentioned in detail earlier.
Table 1: Details of the studies included in the review

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  Results Top

Description of Studies

A total of 2205 potentially relevant citations were retrieved by searching the previously mentioned databases. Three more reports were collected through library search. One thousand forty-five documents were excluded because of duplication. Another 1128 documents were excluded after screening titles and abstracts and 32 documents were retrieved. Finally, after exclusion of 14 studies (two national reports were not accessible and 12 articles were not eligible), 18 studies were included in the review. Details of the extracted studies included in the review are presented in [Table 1].

According to [Table 1], the most frequently studied medium was television. Two studies (11%) had evaluated magazines, and in two studies (11%) radio and television were analyzed simultaneously. The most studied resources were articles (72%), followed by reports (23%) and news (5%). Children were the target group of six studies (33%); however, they were implicitly targeted in four more studies. In other words in more than half of the studies, children were either explicitly or implicitly targeted. In five studies (27%), violation of regulations were ascertained; however, in other studies violations were reported either implicitly or not reported at all.

Based on the table, the most frequent (83%) violation included depiction of unhealthy foods which were typically energy-dense and rich in sugar, salt, and fat. Presence of obese actors (either children or adults) in the entire or a part of the food advertisements was reported in 22% of the studies. Scientific validity of the nutritional content of the advertisements in two studies (11%) were questioned. Other reported violations included presentation of unethical values and neglect of the principles of healthy eating.

  Discussion Top

In this review, television was the most frequently studied medium and other media, namely, billboards, satellite, and social media networks including Instagram, Telegram, and so on were not studied. Regarding the substantial role of “online advertising markets” in the new world,[43] need for further studies on their content and probable effect on the customers' behaviors in the country is strongly felt. The fact that food marketers have long been active in the digital arena has been already documented.[44–46]

Violation of regulations in our review mainly included depiction of high caloric foods with added sugar and/or salt. A study conducted in three Persian Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, examined the frequency and quality of food advertised on TV. The results showed that many advertisements promoted foods high in calorie, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar.[47] In another study in Turkey that analyzed the content of TV food commercials on Turkish national television networks with free broadcasts, the frequency of junk food advertisements was 10 times and the frequency of soft drink advertisements was seven times more than the frequency of basic food advertisements.[48]

Presence of obese actors (either children or adults) in the entire or a part of the advertisements was another reported violation. The presence of obese actors in the advertisements may imply the belief that obesity is not a health concern, especially for children.[49] However, a recent study explored that adolescents with higher body mass index and lower health consciousness were likely to prefer healthy food options if their presenters were thin.[50] According to a study in Brazil, fat people in TV advertising acted like clowns and were “used” to illicit laughter.[51] Another study conducted in USA indicated that fat characters on commercial television had generally negative characteristics and were less likely to be considered attractive.[52]

Scientific validity of the nutritional content of the advertisements in two studies (12%) were questioned.[39],[53] In two studies, unhealthy food products were implicitly preferred over healthy products in which the violations took place very skillfully.[37],[30]

Other reported violations included presentation of unethical values (according to the authors, some examples of unethical values included craving for food, eating the share of others, not respecting the rights of others, consumerism, and using obese characters in the advertisements) and neglecting the principles of healthy eating.[32],[38] Misleading nutritional claims and other violations like depiction of harmful food products have been reported in other studies as well.[54],[55],[56]

According to the present review, violation of food marketing regulations was observed in the mid-70s, when the principles for making and distributing commercial messages were not imperative, and continued to the late 90s, when the mentioned principles were more enforced. It upholds the reality that legislation by itself cannot make a difference. To achieve the desired result, when formulating any policy it is essential to decide on its implementation and evaluation strategies from the very beginning.

Only three studies had fully documented the state of conformity of commercial messages with health policies in the country and reported a display of food products harmful to health on the national radio and television.[25],[27],[28]

Based on the Regulation on the Establishment and Monitoring of the Work and Activity of Advertising Centers (1978) Note Ch, article 12,[20] any form of marketing directed at children is banned, however, according to the current review in more than half of the studies the advertisements were directed at children and adolescents. Regarding the well-documented vulnerability of this target group toward the persuading marketing messages,[57],[58],[59] it is not uncommon for food marketers to pay close attention to them.

It is stated that in the marketing of tobacco, alcohol, processed foods, and breast milk substitutes, the related industries applied various tactics to mislead the audience about the harmfulness of these products.[59] It can be concluded that the advertising of unhealthy food marketing is skillfully applied by investors and owners of these products and is not accidental at all. In addition, in another study the tactic trade and investment dispute was added to the previous tactics.[60]

Undoubtedly, the abundant profit from food marketing is to the extent that it persuades investors to apply a variety of direct and indirect methods and tactics to win in this market. It highlights the importance of making laws in a comprehensive and obstructive manner. However, the development of various rules and bills will not help mitigate the present problems until the obstacles to law enforcement are properly identified in advance and a solution is tailored for them.[60]

One of the main challenges of enforcing the laws controlling the production and distribution of harmful food products in the country has been the reduction of the exclusive income of the IRIB and the possibility to provide 70% of its budget through advertising. Moreover, granting the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran (ISIRI) logo and production license to the mentioned industries has made it difficult to enforce the law.

On the other hand, reducing the production of highly processed and potentially harmful food products such as carbonated beverages, cheese puffs and chips, which are very widespread, can lead to unemployment and thus the possibility of increasing imports and smuggling of said products. It is an executive challenge for the law and needs to be addressed.

Strengths and limitations

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review that comprehensively and systematically reports the status of violation of advertising in Iran. However, since the interpretations and definitions of the included studies on violation of regulations were not the same, the comparison between the studies and consequent conclusion was difficult. Furthermore, access to two national reports was not possible in our study.

  Conclusions Top

Review of documents and news in the period under study has shown a clear violation of food marketing policies by the country's media. Displaying food products with low nutritional value and high content of fat, salt, and added sugar; making misleading or scientifically incorrect nutritional claims; the use of obese actors; promoting themes such as gluttony; consumerism; and extravagance are examples of the violation of the law. Advertising companies have tried to lure, deceive, and mislead the audience through various methods. The findings of this study will help policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of regulations on food marketing. Investigating the issue of compliance with advertising regulations along with content analysis is suggested in future similar studies. Furthermore, regarding the substantial role of digital marketing in the new world studies on online advertising is highly recommended.

Supplementary Information

Table A1 to A5, Search strategies and Table A5, The criteria for evaluating the studied documents

Ethics approval and consent to participate

This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute. Approval code was IR.SBMU.NNFTRI.REC.1396.179

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


The authors wish to thank Shadab Shariat-Jafari and Maryam Aghayan for their contribution in data collection. The authors also express their appreciation to the National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute (NNFTRI) for funding the study.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was approved and funded by the National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute. Grant number: 311.1841. Date 13. 03. 2018

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  Search Strategies Top

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