The panel discussion was the second of three town hall meetings that the federal agency plans to gather opinions and problems facing diabetics, their families and the health care industry. The third is scheduled later this summer in Seattle and the first was in Cincinnati earlier this year.
On Friday, panelists said making diabetes education and access to health care more readily available were crucial in fighting both versions of the disease. Patients with Type 1 diabetes are born with the disease and patients with Type 2 develop the disease and are often obese.
About 156,000 Arkansans have diabetes. Huckabee said there has been a 34 percent increase in that in the last 10 years, costing the state $1.6 billion annually in health-care expenses.
Dr. Martha Flowers, a family practice physician from Pine Bluff, told the panel that education among children and teenagers is crucial.
"We have an epidemic brewing among our young people," Flowers said. "Why are we waiting until they get diabetes to do something?"
Huckabee said he agreed with Flowers, but said that making physical education mandatory in public schools could be difficult because Arkansas schools are strapped to fund academics already.
"As much as we've got to make it a school issue, we've got to make it a mom and dad issue," he said.
Dr. Victor Gonzalez of McAllen, Texas, a member of the national board of the American Diabetes Association, said a key to treating rural and poor diabetics is making information on the disease simple enough for them to grasp at a basic level.
"Unless those areas are addressed it becomes a major economic problem," he said.
Several parents of children with diabetes asked the panel about research dollars for the Type 1 version of the disease. Dr. Allen Spiegel, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said that the National Institutes of Health has $150 million a year through 2008 for research.
Other attendees brought up the issue of embryonic stem cell research, which they argued could further research for a Type 1 diabetes cure. Spiegel said that scientists were doing everything they could within the boundaries set by the Bush administration.
Possible treatments, like inhaled insulin and pancreas pumps, also were discussed.
Huckabee was diagnosed with diabetes last year but said Friday that he no longer has any symptoms after he lost 105 pounds.
On Friday, he said that health-care systems are set up to reward bad behaviors and that needs to change. He said one way would be to offer nonsmokers time off work to make up for smoking breaks.
"We need to be able to say if you live a healthy lifestyle there are financial benefits," he said.
Thompson emphasized treating the disease in minority populations, who he said are hit particularly hard by diabetes, and in children.
"The main thing you can do is start talking about obesity and exercise and get to it," Thompson said.