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The article aims to assess the importance of the timing of exposure to nutritional stress for adult stature. We test the hypothesis that exposure in adolescence (12 to 20 years of age) may have a more detrimental effect than exposure in infancy. To substantiate this, we analyse a sample of male prison inmates incarcerated in central Poland in the interwar period. We find that the secular trend in stature that had started in Poland in the 1860s was reversed in cohorts born between 1896 and 1904, who were exposed to nutritional stress during the First World War between the ages of 12 and 25 years. In comparison, wartime infants and toddlers did much better. In the improving economic conditions of the 1920s, they were able to undo the scars of war during their adolescence. The conclusion is corroborated by data concerning soldiers and conscripts to the Polish army. With regard to body mass index (BMI), we found that the trends among convicts and conscripts differ. This is caused by changes in the composition of the prison sample, related to the impact of the Great Depression. In summary, it seems that stature is a more robust proxy of well‐being than BMI.