Population ageing is rapidly becoming a global issue and will have a major impact on health policies and programmes. The World Health Organization's Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) aims to address the gap in reliable data and scientific knowledge on ageing and health in low- and middle-income countries. SAGE is a longitudinal study with nationally representative samples of persons aged 50+ years in China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa, with a smaller sample of adults aged 18-49 years in each country for comparisons. Instruments are compatible with other large high-income country longitudinal ageing studies. Wave 1 was conducted during 2007-2010 and included a total of 34 124 respondents aged 50+ and 8340 aged 18-49. In four countries, a subsample consisting of 8160 respondents participated in Wave 1 and the 2002/04 World Health Survey (referred to as SAGE Wave 0). Wave 2 data collection will start in 2012/13, following up all Wave 1 respondents. Wave 3 is planned for 2014/15. SAGE is committed to the public release of study instruments, protocols and meta- and micro-data: access is provided upon completion of a Users Agreement available through WHO's SAGE website (www.who.int/healthinfo/systems/sage) and WHO's archive using the National Data Archive application (http://apps.who.int/healthinfo/systems/surveydata).