Six scientists swallowed Lego heads to determine how long it takes to poop

Pre-SHAT score. Post-SHAT score. FART score. You would be familiar with these tests if you had read Volume 55 of the Journal Of Pediatrics And Child Health. Why? Because in 2018, a group of researchers decided to find out how long it takes to poop Lego.

Six pediatric healthcare professionals took on the challenge in a study titled “Everything’s Great: Don’t Forget the Lego.” The brave volunteers had to meet three exclusion criteria to participate:

  • Previous gastrointestinal surgery
  • Inability to ingest foreign objects
  • Aversion to searching in feces

Once they had their awesome team of stool filters, the researchers assessed the participants’ normal bowel movements using the Stool Hardness and Transit score. Also known as the SHAT score. This was then compared to their SHAT score after taking the Lego head, giving them pre-SHAT and post-SHAT data points for analysis.

Lego heads swallowed, the race was on. Contestants had to search their stools in hopes that one day that little yellow head would smile at them. The time it took to do this became the Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score.

In case these details have you staring at your phone in disbelief, the journey down the human esophagus was necessary because, as any parent will tell you, kids love putting things in their mouths. From six months to three years, children experience an early stage of oral development where they explore the world through their facial holes. Certainly a crucial part in developing our senses, but it also has the side effect of ingesting foreign objects.

Parents are understandably concerned if they think their child has swallowed something they shouldn’t. Magnetic ball bearings are a particularly dangerous culprit, which can perforate the bowel if they begin to move. And who could forget the fable of the astrophysicist who got magnets stuck in his nose while trying to create a device that would prevent people from touching their faces during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Lego heads went where countless Lego heads have gone: on a journey through the human digestive tract. Image credit: G Leo, © 2018 Department of Pediatrics and Child Health (The Royal Australasian College of Physicians)

Surgery may be necessary in the case of objects that are potentially dangerous, but when it comes to more innocuous things like a piece of Lego, medical intervention may be unnecessary. Establishing this requires a scientific understanding of how long it takes for Lego to pass through the human digestive tract and welcome SHAT and FART scores to the world.

It took an average of 1.71 days for the Lego head to leave the body, with a varied FART score between 1.14 and 3.04 days. The researchers also note that “women may be more adept at sifting their stool than men,” adding that “cannot be statistically validated.” Presumably this refers to the fact that a male volunteer never found his Lego head. Help.

While the researchers note that it’s possible that transit time in a child’s relatively shorter gut differs fundamentally from that of an adult, there isn’t much in the literature to suggest that this would be the case. A child is likely to see his blocky friend much sooner than an adult.

The findings are intended to reassure concerned parents that lost Legos are likely to pass undetected through a child’s digestive system, and spare them the dirty work of painstakingly picking out poop for MIA Legos.

“If an experienced clinician with a PhD is unable to adequately find objects in their own stool, it seems clear that we should not expect parents to do so,” they concluded, adding that the approach has some limitations, but also some advantages.

“The studied population could not be blinded to the study results, as we felt it was unfair for the authors’ partners or colleagues to search their waste products. We also recognize that the Stool Hardness and Transit score is not a perfect surrogate for the underlying bowel pattern, but the fact that participants can SHAT themselves without specialist knowledge makes it an inexpensive tool.

The study is published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health.

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