Pediatricians in the UK have finally answered one of life’s grand riddles: Just how long would it take for a Lego toy accidentally swallowed by someone to gracefully make its way back out?
The answer comes courtesy of a recent study published last week in The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health. The six authors of the study all volunteered themselves to ingest the head of a typical Lego figurine (and even made a video showing their moment of truth). Then they just waited for the inevitable, meticulously checking their poop after every go-around to the porcelain throne. Various search and retrieval methods were used, from placing their poop in a bag and squishing the contents in hopes of finding a Lego-shaped hunk of plastic to sifting through poop with chopsticks.
On average, the authors reported, it took 1.71 days for the Lego poop to finally emerge, at least for those who actually found it. One of the doctors never spotted their toy, meaning they either just missed it or that the head might have gotten stuck somewhere along the gut, destined to come out at some other inopportune time or just languish in the body for years to come.
Even with the possible lone straggler, the authors say, their research should assuage parents worried about the dangers of their kid swallowing a small toy.
“A toy object quickly passes through adult subjects with no complications,” they wrote. “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.”
That said, the study isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously.
The authors’ research was sparked by their collaboration on Don’t Forget The Bubbles, a blog network of pediatricians and other doctors who write about topics like neonatal jaundice and childhood vaccines. In a blog post on the site discussing the attention their study got, the authors admitted that their little experiment wasn’t meant to be hard science, just a “bit of fun in the run up to Xmas.”
For one, given the small sample size, the specific number of 1.71 days estimated to pass a Lego might not be generalizable to the public. And that’s especially true for children, since their guts are definitely different (shorter) from the average adult’s.
Even within the academic paper itself — a format where colourful language goes to die — the authors went out of their way to have some fun. To record their bowel habits before ingestion, they created the Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score. And afterward, they recorded the length of time it took them to pass their stool via their self-made Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score.
Still, even having escaped unscathed from their experiment with nothing more than some positive media buzz, the authors hope others don’t follow in their footsteps. At the very bottom of their blog post is a warning: “Please do not try this at home.”