The National Cohort study will make detailed physical examinations of 200,000 people aged between 20 and 70. These exams will include lung function tests, blood pressure measurements and whole-body MRI scans, as well as the collection and storage of various samples such as saliva, nasal smears and even faeces.
The 200,000 people will be asked to answer detailed questionnaires about what they eat, drink and whether they smoke, as well as how much exercise they take, as well as other areas such as their work, their mental and emotional states and physical health history.
The questionnaires will be sent out for answers regularly, while the physical examination will be repeated after four years so that any changes can be recorded.
"We want to better understand how illnesses develop and how one can prevent them," Rudolf Kaaks, head of the epidemiology of cancer department at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, told Wednesday's Die Welt newspaper.
"There have been debates for years - should one eat less red meat, or is it important to do move more, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and so on. What remains open is which of these factors are the most important?"
He is also a board member of the National Cohort Association, which has as its basic aim the improved understanding of common chronic diseases. More than two-thirds of all deaths in Germany are attributable to cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke or diabetes-related complications, the group says on its website.
As well as lifestyle and straight-forward physical factors, the huge study will also include geographical and socio-economic information as possible factors in poor health. The idea is to develop risk assessment models to identify people at greater risk of chronic disease and help create effective methods of disease prevention.
More than €210 million has been earmarked for the project which will be conducted by 18 medical centres across the country.