BACKGROUND: Skeletal growth occurs concurrently with cognitive development. Better childhood conditions, proxied by greater adult height or leg length but not sitting height, have been positively associated with adult cognition mainly in white populations in developed countries. Whether skeletal growth is universally associated with cognitive function is unclear. We examined the association of height and its components with adulthood cognitive function in an area of southern China where there has been rapid economic development. METHODS: Multivariable logistic regression was used in a cross-sectional study of 20,411 Chinese men and women aged 50 years or older from the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study. We assessed the association of height and its components with a test of mild cognitive impairment in which impairment was defined as a score of 3 or less on the 10-word delayed recall test. RESULTS: Greater height and sitting height were associated with better recall in men (odds ratio = 1.15 [95% confidence interval = 1.00-1.32] per 10 cm greater height and 1.33 [1.04-1.69] per 10 cm greater sitting height) and women (1.21 [1.10-1.33] and 1.56 [1.33-1.83], respectively) adjusting for age, education, personal income, and for smoking in men and age of menarche in women. Greater leg length in both sexes was associated with a higher test score. CONCLUSIONS: Certain phases of childhood or adolescent growth may be cognitively protective. If confirmed, these results highlight the childhood and adolescence antecedents of adult disease, with corresponding public health implications for healthy aging.