OBJECTIVE We analyse temporal trends and regional variation among the most recent available anthropometric data from German conscription in the years 2008-2010 and their historical contextualization since 1956. Design/setting/subjects The overall sample included German conscripts (N 13 857 313) from 1956 to 2010. RESULTS German conscripts changed from growing in height to growing in breadth. Over the analysed 54 years, average height of 19-year-old conscripts increased by 6·5 cm from 173·5 cm in 1956 (birth year 1937) to 180·0 cm in 2010 (birth year 1991). This increase plateaued since the 1990s (1970s birth years). The increase in average weight, however, did not lessen during the last two decades but increased in two steps: at the end of the 1980s and after 1999. The weight and BMI distributions became increasingly right-skewed, the prevalence of overweight and obesity increased from 11·6 % and 2·1 % in 1984 to 19·9 % and 8·5 % in 2010, respectively. The north-south gradient in height (north = taller) persisted during our observations. Height and weight of conscripts from East Germany matched the German average between the early 1990s and 2009. Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, the average chest circumference increased, the average difference between chest circumference when inhaling and exhaling decreased, as did leg length relative to trunk length. CONCLUSIONS Measuring anthropometric data for military conscripts yielded year-by-year monitoring of the health status of young men at a proscribed age. Such findings contribute to a more precise identification of groups at risk and thus help with further studies and to target interventions.