Chad Ipox polishes a stainless steel tank top in a Canby, Ore., plant. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The wellness business is hot, and Uncle Sam wants in.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is about to hold a series of free webinars to launch the National Healthy Worksite Program.

The CDC recently hired Viridian Health Management L.L.C., Phoenix — a private, for-profit wellness firm founded in 2005 — to run the program.

Viridian, a company formerly known as Diversity Wellness L.L.C., will be organizing groups of up to 15 employers in 7 different regions in an effort to help CDC researchers evaluate the effectiveness of worksite wellness programs.

The CDC will hold the first webinar for employers interested in participating in the program Dec. 20 and hold several more webinars in January 2012.

The wellness program Viridian would help an employer develop would include:

  • An assessment of employer and employee needs, interests, health risks and existing capabilities.
  • A wellness program planning and development process.
  • Help with implementing programs, policies, and practices designed to address risk factors related to physical activity, nutrition, and tobacco use.
  • Help with building wellness committees and creating the kind of leadership needed to keep the program going over the long term.
  • Training and technical assistance.

A typical program could include a change in worksite smoking rules, changes in the food choices available through worksite cafeterias and vending machines, and promoting work schedules that help employees exercise more, officials say in a notice published today in the Federal Register.

The program will not provide grants or other direct financial assistance for participating employers.

Viridian will ask each participating employer to make 3 to 5 core changes.

To make administration of the program easier, the CDC and Viridian will work with employers in each of 7 regions, but all of the participating employers in each of the 7 regions must be in one city, county or other geographic area.

The geographic area must have a high prevalence of chronic disease and enough community resources available to keep the wellness program going when the CDC test program ends.

Each of the 7 test groups must include a mix of small employers, midsize employers and large employers.

The small employers must have 100 or fewer full-time employees, and the large employers must have more than 250 full-time employees.

The program will enroll employers through a website that will take applications from Jan. 20, 2012, through Feb. 3, 2012.

Program managers will make the final selection of the participating employers April 30, 2012.