Small bowel enteropathy (assessed by the lactulose (L): mannitol (M) permeability test) is a major factor in infant growth faltering and malnutrition in The Gambia. However, little is known about its persistence and nutritional effect beyond 2 years of age. This was addressed by two cross-sectional studies of intestinal permeability and nutritional status in 162 residents, aged 2–60 years, living in three villages in rural Gambia. L:M ratio was found to be highest in the youngest children and although there was a significant improvement with age (P<0·0001), values were always greater than the range found in UK counterparts. M recovery (mean value 5·68 (SE 0·12)%) was at all times between one-third and one-half of expected UK values and showed no improvement with age. Gut barrier function, assessed by L uptake, improved with age (P<0·001) and fell within the UK normal range beyond age 10 years. Both the L:M permeability ratio and L recovery were significantly associated with height-for-age z-scores (r−0·31 and −0·22 respectively, P<0·001), a relationship that persisted throughout childhood and into adulthood. Change in height-for-age z-score beween the two visits was also related to the L:M ratio (r−0·24, P=0·018). The close within-subject correlation of permeability variabilities between the two visits suggests a long-term persistence of enteropathy within individuals. It appears that the small bowel enteropathy previously described in Gambian infants persists through to adulthood. Although the lesion improves with age, the relationship between attained height and L:M permeability raises the possibility that enteropathy may continue to limit growth throughout childhood and puberty.