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Lack of focus on Aging in the UN Sustainable Development Goals

UN SDGs

This is a follow-up to my other post, Aging and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In that post, I discussed the launching of the Goals and the UN Population Fund’s summary of the goals – which disappointedly did NOT address aging or older adults. In this post, I look deeper into the Goals, reading all 17 and their 169 associated targets to see where aging is specifically addressed. I think I’m gonna need a coffee to get through them all 🙂 

As I mentioned in the previous post, the UN City in Copenhagen is getting ready to celebrate the launch of the Goals. It’s a pretty awesome building to be working in, and it has an exciting energy with all the preparations for the launch. Check out the pictures I got yesterday after they hung banners up in the grand stairwell. I call it the grand stairwell because it’s pretty darn grand and reminds me of a grand piano (the first image is from Google Images, to show you the grand piano-ness).

UN City staircase – Photo: Adam Mørk

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I also wanted to look at the report on the Millennium Development Goals – which preceded the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s a long pdf file, so I first did a quick word search. NOTHING on elderly, aging, ageing, older, dementia…… I was shocked and disappointed. A lot of stuff about working-age adults and children, but I didn’t find one mention of older adults. 😦 In fact, the oldest age I found mentioned in the report was age 59, when discussing poverty among women.

Well, on to the meat of this post. How do the 17 goals and 169 targets address aging? Time for my second cup of coffee!

For a well-organized look at each of the goals, their targets, and related links, the UN Sustainable Development Goals webpage is a good place to look. You can click on each of the goals to read about them. I also looked at the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, which has all the agreed upon goals and their targets, and this was my main source of info for this post. In their announcement of the new agenda, they state:

People who are vulnerable must be empowered. Those whose needs are reflected in the Agenda include all children, youth, persons with disabilities (of whom more than 80% live in poverty), people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants.

Off to an interesting start, let’s see where it leads. While I’m not a fan of older adults being generalized as vulnerable – this doesn’t address healthy and active aging, or even give the idea that older adults do anything other than be vulnerable – I am glad they are mentioned, though.

Here is a summary of where aging and older adults are addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Target 2.2:  By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.

Hardly a mention, but at least older adults ARE mentioned – small win. And this may be the first time in my life that I have seen “pregnant and lactating women and older persons” grouped together 😉

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Target 11.2:  By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Target 11.7:  By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

That’s it for addressing aging directly.

THAT’S IT?!! My second cup of coffee is still hot!

The Goals only mention older adults, nothing about healthy aging or aging adults. And the second and third targets (out of a mere 3 that mention them) groups older adults as being vulnerable or disabled.

Goal 1 almost mentioned older adults in one of its targets, and I certainly hope they include older adults as part of “all ages.”

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Action 1.2:  By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.

As mentioned in my previous post on this topic, Goal 3 strongly alludes to healthy aging, yet fails to actually mention or address it. Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

I also think Goal 10 has promise, particularly for reducing ageism, and including aging and older adults in social, economic, and political discussions – and I do mean including them, not just other people talking about them. Yet, I worry that, like these Goals to change the world, simply mentioning older adults is not enough to address their needs or to inspire action.

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

Action 10.2:  By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

I gotta say, overall, I am really disappointed. I feel as though older adults are simply mentioned because someone said, “we have to be sure to say something about old people, too.” Not because the UN is being strategic about addressing issues surrounding aging and the needs of aging adults.

This is one situation where I would be thrilled to be proven wrong – I would be so happy to hear that X, Y, and Z initiatives on empowering aging adults are in place, they just weren’t mentioned in the Goals or Actions. But I’m not holding my breath for that good news.

If, like me, you are disappointed and feel that aging should be addressed in a more respectful and empowering way and with more concrete actions, share this post and let others know that simply mentioning “for all ages” is only lip service if there is nothing to back it up. If you want to be an agent of change and advocate for the inclusion and rights of aging adults, take action!

Share your opinions on

From the 1st of October until November, interested parties can fill out an online survey to give their views and contribute to the development of the Partnerships for Sustainable Development project. You can find out more about the tool and register your initiative in support of the goals here. Views will be sought through an online survey. Results from the survey will guide the development of the projected “full version” in achieving its aim of becoming a tool to encourage global partnerships engagement around the SDGs.

  • What functionalities should the platform have? What is missing?

  • How can partners best report on progress of their partnerships/commitments, without creating unnecessary reporting burden?

  • How can the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its regional commissions, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), and other inter-governmental fora best support the review process of multi-stakeholder partnerships and their impact on achieving the sustainable development goals?

It is our world and we can make our opinions known. In fact, they are even asking for them.

As October 1st is the UN International Day of Older Persons, so, one some level, they acknowledge the value and importance of society’s elders. It is coming up next week and gives another great opportunity to advocate for aging adults!

I would like to know what you think – please leave your impressions in the comments below, it would be great to get a dialogue going on this topic.

As a follow-up, I will be writing a 3rd blog post on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This time, going through and highlighting how they actually do/could affect aging and older adults and giving a few suggestions for Actions. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Lack of focus on Aging in the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  1. Pingback: Suggestions to Include Aging in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

  2. Pingback: Aging and the UN Sustainable Development Goals | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

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