As It Happens

Study has doctors sift through own poop in quest for swallowed Lego heads

Dr. Damian Roland spent two weeks sifting through his own feces to find out just how long it takes a Lego head to pass through the human body.

Average Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score for the Lego heads was 1.71 days

Pediatric doctors, like Dr. Damian Roland, have now determined conclusively how long it takes a Lego head to travel through the human body — because they were the ones swallowing the heads. (Submitted by Dr. Damian Roland)
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Dr. Damian Roland spent two weeks sifting through his own feces in the name of science.

"It's not an experiment I'm going to be repeating again in a hurry, I can assure you of that," the pediatric emergency doctor told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

Roland was looking for something in particular: a yellow Lego figurine head that he purposely swallowed.

It was an idea thought up by Roland and five other pediatric health-care professionals in England and Australia.

While brainstorming for a new idea for the pediatric website Don't Forget The Bubbles, one of the doctors suggested a problem that parents are often faced with: What do you do when your child swallows a piece of Lego?

"How long will it take to pass through the child's body? Do we have to sift through that poo? This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do something that had real world applicability," Roland said.

The study, titled "Everything is awesome: Don't forget the Lego", was recently published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Lego figure heads are displayed in London, England. Six pediatric health-care professionals swallowed Lego heads in an effort to find out how long it takes one to travel through the human body. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Before they could get started, Roland and the other recruits had to log the frequency and looseness of their stools.  

"We needed to know for each person that they'd had the same number of poos in a given time period," Roland said.

This would be known as the the Stool Hardness and Transit (SHAT) score.

Water to wash it down 

Then it was time to start the experiment.

"We took a video of ourselves doing it so we could all prove that we'd swallowed the Lego heads, and most of us did it with a glass of water," Roland said.

After swallowing the piece of Lego, Roland and his colleagues got to work.

"I'm presuming people wore gloves so maybe ... they kind of sifted around. To be honest, I think we kept our own particular methodologies to ourselves."

Just over a day later, all the doctors except Roland started to yield results.

"I was getting more desperate. All my colleagues had found their Lego heads and I still don't know whether it's still inside me or not," he said.

The average length of time it took for the Lego head to pass — or the Found and Retrieved Time (FART) score — was 1.71 days.

Lego nowhere to be found 

Roland never found his Lego head.

"Maybe I didn't look hard enough," he said, "because it's not a pleasant thing to do."

While he admits the study is humorous, there are real world applications.

Roland says the study should warn parents that small items, like button batteries often used in toys, are dangerous if swallowed.

But small toys, such as Lego, don't pose much of a risk.

"It just shows that most people clearly eat their fibres and things work their way through the body pretty quickly, which is nice to know," he said.

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Chris Harbord

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