Few countries in West Africa have the capacity for carrying out advanced training in nutrition and public health. To provide additional information on current regional applied nutrition research capacity and productivity, we analysed peer-reviewed articles on key public health nutrition topics that were published from 1998 to 2008. Using MEDLINE/PubMed, the following terms were searched: 'breast feeding', 'infant nutrition physiology' (comprising complementary feeding and weaning), 'protein energy malnutrition', 'nutrition and infection', 'vitamin A', 'iodine', 'zinc' and 'overweight', each linked with the term 'Western Africa'. In total, 412 unique articles (37±6 articles per year) were identified. Most research focused on infant and young child feeding practices, selected micronutrient deficiencies, and the emerging problem of overweight and obesity. The primary author of nearly half (46%) the publications was located in an institution outside of West Africa. Most articles were published in English (90%), and nearly half of all articles (41%) were cross-sectional studies. Our findings indicate that few peer-reviewed research studies are being published on key public health topics in the West African region, considering the magnitude of nutrition problems in this region. New approaches are needed to encourage and support research capacity and output in West Africa.