This review summarizes the impact of stunting, highlights recent research findings, discusses policy and programme implications and identifies research priorities. There is growing evidence of the connections between slow growth in height early in life and impaired health and educational and economic performance later in life. Recent research findings, including follow‐up of an intervention trial in Guatemala, indicate that stunting can have long‐term effects on cognitive development, school achievement, economic productivity in adulthood and maternal reproductive outcomes. This evidence has contributed to the growing scientific consensus that tackling childhood stunting is a high priority for reducing the global burden of disease and for fostering economic development. Follow‐up of randomized intervention trials is needed in other regions to add to the findings of the Guatemala trial. Further research is also needed to: understand the pathways by which prevention of stunting can have long‐term effects; identify the pathways through which the non‐genetic transmission of nutritional effects is mediated in future generations; and determine the impact of interventions focused on linear growth in early life on chronic disease risk in adulthood.