The study promises "an enormous growth in knowledge in the fight against common diseases," federal research minister Johanna Wanka said in Essen on Monday.
Men and women between the ages of 20 and 69 will be randomly selected. If they agree to the study, they will first receive a check up in one of 18 participating research clinics. Doctors will draw blood, take DNA samples, test lung capacity and their circulation. They will also have to answer questions regarding their lifestyle.
After four years, they'll get another check up.
One in five of the participants will also be chosen to have an MRI as part of the study.
The researchers hope to discover what factors contribute to the most common diseases, including cancers, diabetes, dementia, depression and heart disease. They also hope the National Cohort study will reveal early signs of chronic illnesses not yet known to medicine.
"Today, almost all of the most common diseases are diagnosed when it's already too late," said president of the Helmholtz Association Omar Wiestler.
The research institute, as well as state and federal governments have already put up €210 million in funding for the first 10 years of the National Cohort. A further €60 million has been pledged by the clinics conducting the study.
"Ideally this (study) will lead to improvements in prophylaxis, early detection and diagnosis," said Karin Halina Greiser of the Helmholtz Association in a press release. "But who knows what the future will bring and, as always with research, it is impossible to make a prediction."