Here’s some good news for concerned parents whose small kids have ingested a LEGO (or two). A new study by pediatric researchers has concluded that the toys should reappear in their poo within a few days. They know this because their subjects voluntarily swallowed the heads of LEGO figurines and monitored how long it took to retrieve them.
Yes, this is a genuine scientific article, published in the renowned Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health with the caption: “Everything is great: don’t forget the LEGOs.” It’s by the same group of pediatricians behind the popular blog Don’t Forget the Bubbles. “We’ve finally answered the burning question: How long does it take for a swallowed LEGO head to be over?” DFTB co-founder and paper co-author Tessa Davis tweeted. “This is dedication to pediatrics, but it was worth advancing science and pediatric emergency care.”
We joke, but this is really a valid concern. As Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted: Forbes, small children love to swallow things, especially coins. There have been previous studies of the passage of coins through the digestive tract, most notably a 1971 paper that found most coins to be harmless within three to six days.
But no one had looked closely at the second most swallowed item: small toy parts. And LEGO figure heads are particularly tempting for the gastronomically curious toddler.
How would you even find six adults (three men and three women) willing to swallow LEGO parts? Davis et al. recruited their subjects from the online community of pediatric hospital professionals. They screened everyone with previous gastrointestinal surgery, difficulty swallowing objects, or an “aversion to searching through stool.”
Each subject kept a “stool diary,” recording their bowel movements before and after swallowing the LEGO heads. They evaluated the frequency and looseness of their stools based on the research team’s Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score. (Who says pediatricians don’t have a sense of humor?) After swallowing the toy, they spent the next three days sifting through their own poop to determine when the LEGO head reappeared. The number of days it took to pass and retrieve it was called the Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score.
A poor sod never found the LEGO head at all.
Five of the six subjects had FART scores ranging from 1.14 days to 3.04 days, for an average of 1.71 days (approximately 41 hours). And a poor sod never found the LEGO head at all. We now know that topic is the co-authored paper and pediatrics consultant Damien Roland, who: told the CBC he spent two weeks searching his own poop, hoping the toy part would reappear, to no avail. Maybe a little more roughage in the diet would help?
As Lee points out, this is a small study, targeting adults rather than toddlers. SHAT and FART scores may differ more in the general population. This was also not a blind study, as the authors felt it would simply be asking too much of the study participants’ partners or colleagues to search the poop on their behalf. And other small toy parts of different shapes may take a shorter or longer time to pass through the body.
“A toy object quickly passes adult subjects without complications,” the authors conclude, adding an important caveat: “parents should be advised not to look for the object in stool, as it is difficult to find.” But maybe not swallow those LEGO figurine heads in the first place either, m’kay?
DOI: Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health2018. 10.1111/jpc.14309 (About DOIs).