Malnutrition, in all its forms, during the critical stages of child growth and development can have lifelong impacts on health and well-being. While most forms of malnutrition can be prevented with simple dietary interventions, both undernutrition and overnutrition remain persistent and burdensome challenges
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Malnutrition, in all its forms, during the critical stages of child growth and development can have lifelong impacts on health and well-being. While most forms of malnutrition can be prevented with simple dietary interventions, both undernutrition and overnutrition remain persistent and burdensome challenges for large portions of the global population, especially for young children who are dependent on others for nourishment. In addition to dietary factors, children’s health also faces the growing challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, pollution, and infectious disease. Food production and consumption practices both sit at the nexus of these issues, and both must be significantly transformed if we are to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Food sources (i.e., animal-source foods vs. plant-source foods), food production practices, the effects of food processing, the impacts of a more globalized food system, and food loss and waste have all been receiving growing attention in health and sustainability research and policy discussions. Much of this work points to recommendations to reduce resource-intensive animal-source foods, heavily processed foods, and foods associated with excessive waste and pollution, while simultaneously increasing plant-source options. However, some of these recommendations require a little more nuance when considered in the context of issues such as global child health. All types of foods can play significant roles in providing essential nutrition for children across the globe, and for improving the well-being and livelihoods of their families and communities. Dairy foods provide a prime example of this need for nuance, as both dairy production practices and consumption patterns vary greatly throughout the world, as do their impacts on child health and food system sustainability. The objective of this narrative review is to highlight the role of dairy in supporting child health in the context of food system sustainability. When considering child health within this context it is recommended to take a holistic approach that considers all four domains of sustainability (health, economics, society, and the environment) to better weigh trade-offs, optimize outcomes, and avoid unintended consequences. To ensure that children have access to nutritious and safe foods within sustainable food systems, special consideration of their needs must be included within the broader food systems transformation narrative.