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The relationship between ponderal, linear and lower leg growth in children recovering from severe malnutrition remains unclear. We report on the early growth of 141 severely malnourished Bangladeshi children aged 6 to 36 months of age who were followed for 90 d. Mean (SD) weight for height (WHZ) and height for age (HAZ) catch-up growth Z scores over the 90 d were 1.6 (0.85) and 0.47 (0.325) respectively. mean (SD) lower leg length growth was 10.35 (4.5) mm. Change in HAZ was significantly associated with initial WHZ, but linear growth occurred in the presence of severe wasting and no threshold WHZ score was identified. Lower leg length gain correlated throughout with ponderal indices but with change in HAZ score only after day 45. Only initial WHZ score and maternal height predicted for linear growth and only accounted for 20 % of total variance. We conclude that linear growth occurs early in severely malnourished children but that knemometry behaves as a ponderal index acutely.