Nutrition is an important factor in mental development and, as a consequence, in cognitive performance. Malnutrition is reflected in children's weight, height and BMI curves. The present cross-sectional study aimed to evaluate the association between anthropometric indices and cognitive performance in 6746 school-aged children (aged 6–12 years) of four Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia; Malaysia; Thailand; Vietnam. Cognitive performance (non-verbal intelligence quotient (IQ)) was measured using Raven's Progressive Matrices test or Test of Non-Verbal Intelligence, third edition (TONI-3). Height-for-age z-scores (HAZ), weight-for-age z-scores (WAZ) and BMI-for-age z-scores (BAZ) were used as anthropometric nutritional status indices. Data were weighted using age, sex and urban/rural weight factors to resemble the total primary school-aged population per country. Overall, 21 % of the children in the four countries were underweight and 19 % were stunted. Children with low WAZ were 3·5 times more likely to have a non-verbal IQ < 89 (OR 3·53 and 95 % CI 3·52, 3·54). The chance of having a non-verbal IQ < 89 was also doubled with low BAZ and HAZ. In contrast, except for severe obesity, the relationship between high BAZ and IQ was less clear and differed per country. The odds of having non-verbal IQ levels < 89 also increased with severe obesity. In conclusion, undernourishment and non-verbal IQ are significantly associated in 6–12-year-old children. Effective strategies to improve nutrition in preschoolers and school-aged children can have a pronounced effect on cognition and, in the longer term, help in positively contributing to individual and national development.