If Dr. Richard Feinbloom weren’t a pediatrician, he would make a good revolutionary. Come to think of it, maybe he is one anyway.
He has a nice cover: teaching at Harvard Medical School, maintaining a private practice in Cambridge. But if a man who criticizes the American medical system, the federal government, television and automobiles—and eats beef stew for breakfast—isn’t a revolutionary, then who is?
“Medicine is going wild,” says Fein-bloom, 40. “With all the technical discoveries, our power has gotten so great we haven’t yet learned to live with it. It’s unclear where we’re going, but it’s thrilling to be part of it.” Fein-bloom’s part is multifaceted. He is the primary author of the new Child Health Encyclopedia (Delacorte Press), written with the staff of Children’s Medical Hospital in Boston, where until last year Feinbloom was chief of the family and child health division.
While the encyclopedia includes the usual information about chicken pox, pinworms and sore throat, it also contains a glossary of drug slang—”bennies” (a type of stimulant), “crashing” (withdrawal from amphetamines), “blue heavens” (a type of barbiturate)—for parents whose children are more precocious than they might like. The book also calls automobiles “the leading cause of death and disability in children.” Insist that your kids wear seat belts, Feinbloom pleads, “especially if they’re under 4.”
The encyclopedia listing for “television and children” accuses the medium of fostering poor nutrition (“We’ve forgotten that water is an effective thirst quencher,” Feinbloom notes wryly), poor dental health (via over-sugared products), reliance on drugs and a dangerously sedentary life. The attack on TV continues a battle Feinbloom has been waging as a consultant to Action for Children’s Television.
Feinbloom has never hesitated to take on social problems more customarily treated by politicians than doctors. A Philadelphian, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1960, then moved to Boston to practice in 1964 after interning in Cleveland and serving in the Army. “I’m basically a family doctor at heart,” he says. “When I was studying there was no way to become one, but the closest was pediatrics.” Upon arrival in Boston, he joined a Kennedy era campaign opposing construction of bomb shelters, charging they were wasteful. He has also spoken out at various times against biological warfare, extravagant educational claims by toy makers, a Pentagon-run medical school and even high fees for doctors. “Some doctors earn too much money to give good health care,” he believes. “Several hundred thousand dollars a year is inappropriate.” He was active in Medical Aid for Indochina, Inc., a group of doctors who raised money to help hospitals damaged during the Vietnam war.
He has also turned his interest in fitness and nutrition on himself—jogging, cross-country skiing and bicycling often and experimenting with his diet. (His current regimen is “meal inversion,” which is eating the heaviest meal early in the day, even if that means having beef stew for breakfast.)
Feinbloom lives alone in a modern Cambridge apartment while his two sons and a daughter are with his ex-wife in nearby Brookline. Nothing brings out his easy enthusiasm as much as children. “They’re not just a blob of indifference sitting there. They’re fun. They’re optimistic. Treating children gives me an enormous pay-off; they have their whole lives ahead.”