In African and other Third World countries, 20-50% of schoolchildren lie under the 5th centile of US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) growth reference standards for weight- and height-for-age. Such lesser growth, orthodoxly, categorizes those affected as malnourished, at greater risk of disease, of lesser intelligence, and in need of nutritional supplementation. Questions arising include: 'Are there limitations to the application of NCHS reference standards?' In African schoolchildren, is lesser growth attributable largely, or marginally, to insufficient food intake? How powerful are the non-dietary influencing factors? What are the associated disadvantages to health? Conversely, could lesser growth around puberty even be beneficial respecting possible lessening of subsequent risk of degenerative diseases? Discussion indicates that there are numerous complexities in the whole subject of anthropometry, malnutrition and its stigmata, and interventions, dietary and non-dietary, in the youth of poor populations. In view of the invariably low health funds available in Third World countries, only intervention measures of proven significance to pupils' health warrant implementation.