Undernutrition in young children is a global health issue. The ability to meet energy and nutrient needs during this critical stage of development is necessary, not only to achieve physical and mental potential but also socio-economic achievement later in life. Given ongoing discussions regarding optimization of dietary patterns to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations, it is important to identify foods/food groups that have shown efficacy in reducing the negative impacts of undernutrition in young children. This narrative review addresses the impact of dairy intake, with a focus on linear growth, cognitive development and weight gain in early childhood (12–60 months). The impact of country economic status is also examined, to help elucidate regional specific recommendations and/or future research needs. Overall, the body of research addressing this age group is somewhat limited. Based on the data available, there is a positive association between dairy intake and linear growth. The impact of milk or dairy products on cognitive development is less clear due to a lack of evidence and is a gap in the literature that should be addressed. Regarding the impact on body weight, the majority of evidence suggests there is either no association or an inverse association between milk intake by preschool children on overweight and obesity later in life. This evidence is exclusively in high income countries, however, so additional work in lower income countries may be warranted.
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