Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

SDGs, have you heard of them? The United States’ involvement, or lack thereof.

September 10, 2020 · No Comments · SDGs, Uncategorized

SDGs stands for “Sustainable Development Goals:” sustainable, meaning able to be maintained at and upheld to a certain level; development, referring to growth and advancement; and goals, referring to the achievements the effort aims to address. The SDGs were created in 2015 amongst 193 United Nation countries as a follow up to the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [1]. They are “interdisciplinary and cross cutting” meaning all goals must be addressed together through a collaboration of citizens, community groups, academics, political leaders locally, and countries globally [1]. The 17 goals are simply defined by the image below:

Before discussing why the United States does not seem to have much focus or education aimed toward bringing awareness to these goals, let us examine how we are currently preforming towards achievement of the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Report of the United States 2018 analyzed data on each individual state’s possible success of reaching the goals by 2030, with levels of achievement defined as: major challenges remain, significant challenges remain, challenges remain, and making progress within range of goal achievement by 2030 [1].

Where do we show successes? Where do we show failures?

Though no state is on track to meet all goals by 2030, certain indicators have been met within individual states. The most successful achievement so far is Goal 6: to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” with 22 states ‘making progress within range of the goal achievement by 2030’ [1]. Overall, Massachusetts, Washington, and Vermont are preforming the best, while West Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana are progressing the worst [1]. The U.S. tends to show low performance on goals that highlight progress in marginalized groups, such as age, race, gender, poverty, religion, etc. [1]. Read into the report (linked above) to understand more in depth how the SDGs indicators compare across individual states.

We do not seem to be making much progress, so why are the SDGs not discussed more in the United States?

One issue in the United States is the sheer lack of awareness and knowledge of the SDGs. Some reports have shown that American youth seem to be most aware of the goals, but still do not know much about them, many having only heard the name before [2].  About 4 in 10 U.S. citizens are not aware of the SDGs at all, while no significant amount of people knows a great deal about them [2]. That being said, it does seem such knowledge is on the rise due to increased discussion within university systems and public health organizations.

Another major contributor is political leadership. Not only did the U.S. not make a public statement on the implementation of goals nor give a federal plan to achieve them, but also is the only G20 country that has not volunteered to report on SDGs progress [3, 4].

The U.S. government made this statement during the 2030 Agenda Talking Points: “At this time, we cannot express support for each specific goal or target of the Sustainable Development Goals. Each country has its own development priorities, and we continue to consider these in our policies,” giving off an air of arrogance and unwillingness to contribute to global achievement [5].

President Trump has worked to distance the U.S. from collaborative global institutions, such as withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, the Paris Agreement, while also attempting to defund other similar agencies [3, 5]. Though there has been federal distancing from institutions that aim to achieve the SDGs, individual organizations and cities within the U.S. have continued to strive to meet them. Organizations including, but not limited to, USAID, Feeding America, and Churches, joined by New York City, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Jose, and Santa Monica, have committed to achieving the SDGs by 2030 [6].

Due to the current political leadership, U.S. officials working in global health are forced “to walk a fine line” between political rhetoric and their involvement with global initiatives to reach the goals [5]. One example being USAID, which continues to support SDGs without actually using the term SDGs [5]. This lack of collaboration between different American stockholders is a huge contributor to the limited discussion of SDGs in the United States.

Why should we as Americans care, and how can we increase national involvement?

Since compared to less developed countries the U.S. is far ahead, there seems to be a sentiment amongst Americans that we do not need to care about these goals. G20 countries, such as the U.S., account for two thirds of the world population, three fourths of greenhouse gas emissions, and almost all of the global GDP, yet we are ranked at the bottom, behind Russia, on SDGs integration into institutions and policies [3]. These factors affect the entire globe, placing responsibility on the U.S. to improve global health and the global economy. The United States should care more about the SDGs for many other reasons, including its representation of American values: equity, human rights, environmental sustainability, opportunity for all, etc. [4]. American cities have always been leaders for addressing global issues, thus inspiring global action.

Another reason Americans should care more about the SDGs is the fact that global participation is necessary for SDGs success, and failure could affect us all:

“If all of the world’s people lived like people in the developed countries do, then we would need three or four different globes to support the demand in terms of natural resources. So, sustainability is the word for the whole world” [7].

Moving forward the country needs to increase our involvement in achieving the SDGs, or we could fall further behind, creating larger gaps between communities who are on track to achieve the goals and communities who are not. One initiative currently being implemented is the city of Atlanta’s “The Future We Want” project. This project aims to involve young people in the sustainable development goals by using video campaigns addressing “what sustainable development means to them, their social and political aspirations, and what they desire for their futures” [8]. Youth are the social leaders of the future yet are typically left out of such discussions. Increasing the conversation across age groups can improve awareness and activism to reach the goals in the future, both locally and globally. Using the SDGs framework we could improve opportunity, making the American Dream available to all citizens, thus we must take steps to emphasize the shared values and aspirations of global goals to the American people, encouraging stakeholders to develop appropriate plans [6].

This article addresses simple actions YOU can take as an American to help out, so get to it!



  1. Sachs, J. D., Lynch, A., LoPresti, A., & Fox, C. (2018). Ii Sustainable Development Report of the United States 2018 (Rep.). SDG USA and Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
  2. What People Know and Think About the Sustainable Development Goals [PDF]. (2017, June). OECD Development Communication Network (DevCom).
  3. Nelson, E. (2018, July 17). The US and Russia are doing the least to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from
  4. Pipa, A., & Brown, K. (2020, January 14). American leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from
  5. Igoe, M. (2019, September 17). While China embraces the SDGs, the US government would rather not talk about them. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from
  6. Woodside, C. (2016, May). The Sustainable Development Goals in the United States [PDF]. Washington, DC: Bread for the world institute.
  7. Why should you care about the sustainable development goals? – United Nations Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from
  8. The Future We Want [Advertisement]. (2020, August 17). Retrieved from
  9. The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World – United Nations Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from



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