A team of Australian doctors swallowed LEGO and searched their poo - for science

A team of Aussie doctors swallowed LEGO and searched their poo - for science
A team of Aussie doctors swallowed LEGO and searched their poo - for science Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

If your child swallows a piece of LEGO, how long does it take to exit the building?

That's the question a group of very dedicated Aussie pediatricians decided to get to the bottom of, swallowing LEGO figurine heads and tracking their "transit time" all in the name of science.

And the answer is: faster than you might think.

The Melbourne University team's paper, "Everything is awesome: Don't forget the Lego", was published in The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health. And while it might not exactly be "hard science", the findings will certainly give you a giggle. Most importantly, however, they also might help you relax a little if your child decides to snack on a LEGO brick over Christmas.

As part of the research, six pediatric health-care professionals, who were prepared to become intimately acquainted with their own faecal matter, recorded their pre-ingestion bowel habits via a Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score. They then ingested a LEGO head, and let nature take its course.

All participants noted how long it took to locate the LEGO head in their stool, via a Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score. "No turd went unturned" the dedicated authors assure us, explaining that the six subjects employed a number of different techniques including using a bag and "squashing", tongue depressors and gloves, as well as chopsticks, to locate the yellow head.

According to the results, LEGO head evacuation was swift -  the average FART score was 1.71 days. 

"A toy object quickly passes through adult subjects with no complications," the team concludes. "This will reassure parents, and the authors advocate that no parent should be expected to search through their child's faeces to prove object retrieval."

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But that wasn't the only interesting finding. Women, it seems, are better at poo search and research than men.

"There was some evidence that females may be more accomplished at searching through their stools than males, but this could not be statistically validated," the authors explain. In fact, one male participant searched through his poo (thirteen in total) for two weeks after ingestion but was unable to locate the LEGO head. "If an experienced clinician with a PhD is unable to adequately find objects in their own stool, it seems clear that we should not be expecting parents to do so – the authors feel that national guidance could include this advice," the team notes.

There are, of course, some limitations with the research. "The population studied could not be blinded to the study outcomes as we felt it was unfair on the authors' partners or colleagues to search through their waste products," the authors write, which frankly is fair enough. "We also recognise that the Stool Hardness and Transit score is not a perfect surrogate for underlying bowel pattern, but the fact that participants can SHAT themselves without specialist knowledge makes it an inexpensive tool."

In a blog post for Don't Forget the Bubbles, the team note that the research is "a bit of fun in the run up to Xmas", and shouldn't be taken too seriously. "With such a small sample size it is important that you don't extrapolate the data to the entire population of Lego swallowers," they write. That said, they add, "Anecdata from Twitter suggests that a large number of people accidentally ingested bits of Lego throughout their life with no adverse effects,"

In addition, the team acknowledge that most people who ingest LEGO are kids, and not fully-grown adults. As such, the authors note, "Data that is applicable to the adult population may well not be applicable to children."

And their final conclusion is clear: "Don't try this at home."