Building a better world for all

The Bottom Line

  • Over the past 20 years, many international policies have been developed to promote healthy aging.
  • In 2015, the United Nations proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals to address the social, economic and environmental challenges facing societies around the world. However, few of these objectives specifically target older adults.
  • The United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021-2030 brings it all together by proposing measures that align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and directly aim to improve the quality of life of older adults, their families and their communities.

There are already more than a billion people aged 60 or over on Earth and there will be twice as many by 2050. Healthy aging requires environments that allow for autonomy, social connectivity, safety and fulfillment. However, older adults are still too often invisible, isolated and seen as passive actors, despite playing a fundamental role in our society through work, volunteering, caregiving, and much more.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the concept of "healthy aging" to enhance the contribution of older people to society and maximize their well-being throughout life. In parallel, as part of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals which are part of a global plan to create a better world for all.(1-3)

What assessment can we make of the first five years of existence of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with regard to older adults?

What research tells us

A literature review identified 12 key reports on actions taken specifically for older adults during the first five years of implementation of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.(4) The Goals are:

Initiatives and recommendations under different Goals may overlap, as they are interdependent. For example, Goals 1, 5 and 10 are about financial security, Goals 1, 10 and 16 are about advocating for older adults through policy or legislation, and Goals 5, 8 and 10 are about the importance of gender equality.

2015-2020 report

Before 2021, few projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals focused on older adults. Actions have nevertheless been taken to support a dozen Goals. Unfortunately, many of these initiatives were aimed at vulnerable populations in general, without considering the particularities of older populations. Additionally, most of the actions were similar to those advocated by the Age-friendly Cities and Communities launched in 2006 to promote healthy aging.

The Sustainable Development Goals that have generated the most action for older adults are:

• Goal 1: financial assistance, affordable transportation, financial security programs and affordable housing

• Goal 3: early treatment and assessment of dementia, preventive medicine, accessibility of care services and housing flexibility for aging in place

• Goal 10: pension schemes, dementia awareness, protection and social participation programs

• Goal 11: green spaces, affordable housing and accessible transport

Moreover, the literature contains few examples of actions carried out in connection with Goals 2, 4, 5, 9, 13 and 17, because only a few countries have set up initiatives aimed at older adults to achieve these goals.

Can we do better?

The good news is yes! In 2021, the second action plan of the WHO Global Strategy on Aging and Health was launched: the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030). This global initiative builds on the Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging (2002) and aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Its goal is to reduce health inequities and improve the lives of older people, their families and communities by addressing ageism, redesigning environments to make them age-friendly, and providing quality primary care and long-term care.

Already existing inequalities related to age, gender, geographic location and socioeconomic status have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must continue to act and show solidarity:

• Make your voice heard and take concrete action.

Help your community become more age-friendly.

Participate in global events related to the Sustainable Development Goals and talk about them around you.

Be an actor of change!

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Author Details


  1. UN News. Sustainable Development Summit: ‘We must step up our efforts - now’, Guterres declares. 24 September 2019.
  2. United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Consulted online on 3 May 2023.
  3. Allen C, Metternicht G, Wiedmann T. Initial progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A review of evidence from countries. Sustainability Science. 2018;13(5):1453-1467.
  4. Shevelkova V, Mattocks C, Lafortune L. Efforts to address the Sustainable Development Goals in older populations: A scoping review. BMC Public Health. 2023 Mar 8;23(1):456. doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-15308-4. PMID: 36890447; PMCID: PMC9996959.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.