How did nutritional status develop in sub-Saharan Africa during the second half of the 20th century, and what role did economic development play in nutrition and health? Aggregating data from more than 200,000 women in 28 sub-Saharan African countries, we use mean height as an indicator of net nutritional status and find that the nutritional status of 1960 birth cohorts was relatively high. This situation, however, was not sustained. In almost all countries examined, mean heights were stagnating or decreasing after the 1970 cohorts. Using regression analysis we model human growth from birth to maturity, and find that economic growth had a significant and robust influence on final adult height at two distinct periods of the life cycle: (1) in the first years of life and (2) at puberty. We conclude that the economic difficulties of the late 1970s and 1980s contributed to the decline or stagnation in heights.