To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper to report the prevalence of jello shot consumption among a national sample of adolescents. We found a past 30-day prevalence of jello shot consumption of 21.4% among 16-20 year-olds in this pilot study. While the frequency of jello shot use was low, the number of jello shots youth consumed on drinking occasions was considerable, resulting in liquor consumption equivalent to an average of 8.0 liquor drinks per person per month among those who consumed jello shots.
This amount of liquor consumption – derived through jello shots – makes up a substantial proportion of the overall amount of liquor consumed by the youths in our sample. Among youths who consumed liquor, but not jello shots, the average number of liquor drinks per person during the past 30 days was 18.6 drinks. Among youth who consumed jello shots, the average monthly liquor consumption per person through their jello shots was 8.0 drinks. Thus, through jello shot consumption alone, youths ingested nearly half (43%) of the amount of liquor of those who drank liquor but did not use jello shots.
We found that jello shot consumption was significantly more prevalent among youths from lower income households and among youths who drank more frequently and/or engaged in heavy episodic drinking. It appears, then, that jello shot use is a phenomenon associated with higher risk drinking behavior.
Our finding that jello shot consumption is common among older adolescents is concerning for several reasons. First, there is strong evidence that gelatin is an effective alcohol delivery device. Peris et al. (2006)
demonstrated that jello shots are an effective way of administering alcohol to rats. The voluntary consumption of jello shots by rats resulted in brain ethanol levels comparable to those achieved using similar amounts of ethanol drinking, but did not require the usual procedure of starving the rats or depriving them of water to induce ethanol consumption as the rats readily self-administered the jello shots. Peris et al. (2006)
also demonstrated that ethanol levels in jello shots are stable over time. Ralevski et al. (2006)
, in a human study, demonstrated that the ingestion of jello shots resulted in similar blood and breathalyzer alcohol levels as the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as well as similar mood effects.
Second, youth are particularly vulnerable to intoxication from jello shots because gelatin has been found to be effective in masking the bitter taste of alcohol thereby making it less apparent that considerable amounts of alcohol are being ingested. Ralevski et al. (2006)
showed that jello shots were effective in masking the knowledge that alcohol had been consumed; compared to standard alcohol drinks, human subjects who were given jello shots were substantially more likely to believe they had ingested placebo. Furthermore, alcohol delivery vehicles that impart sweetness and flavor may mitigate the unpleasant bitterness of alcohol among early alcohol experimenters (Copeland, Stevenson, Gates, and Dillon, 2007
Third, by combining a familiar, widely available, and generally appealing product—jello—with alcohol, jello shots may enhance the initiation of alcohol use among novice drinkers. Stevenson, Copeland, and Gates (2007)
reported that when alcohol is delivered through a familiar, appealing vehicle, the similarity between the beverages allows the positive perception of the non-alcoholic beverage to carry over to the alcoholic beverage, thereby enhancing the transition to alcohol consumption among novice drinkers.
Fourth, there exists a culture that supports the underage consumption of jello shots. For example, countless recipes for making jello shots are easily available on the internet (Drink Recipe, 2010
; Drinks Mixer, 2010
; How to Make Jello Shots, 2010
; Jellophile, 2010
; Jello Shots and Shooters, 2010
). There are a number of books that provide instructions and recipes for making jello shots (Calhoon and Calhoon, 2004; Facebook Jello Shot Search, 2010
; Sullivan, 2006
). There are at least 88 jello shot groups on Facebook (Facebook Jello Shot Search, 2010
). Restaurants and bars often promote jello shots by including them as part of their drink specials (Halligan’s Restaurant and Bar Facebook Page, 2010
; Menu Pages Restaurant Search, 2010
). There are numerous videos on YouTube showing young people making and consuming jello shots (Youtube Jello Shot Search, 2010
). One video shows a popular television personality, Kelly Ripa, having three jello shots within 30 seconds (Kelly Ripa Does Jello Shots, 2010
). The Yale University Health Services web site describes the use of grain alcohol in jello shots (Yale Health Plan, 2010
). There has been at least one report of a death attributable to jello shots. In 2007, a 20 year-old who consumed jello shots at an off-campus party at Penn State University was convicted of vehicular homicide after striking two pedestrians (Schackner, 2007
). In general, the consumption of liquor shots has been associated with a higher risk of severe negative consequences (Usdan et al., 2008
This research is limited because of the pilot study’s small sample size and the relatively low precision of our prevalence estimates, as well as the non-random nature of the sample, which was obtained by consecutive sampling. Therefore, the specific estimate of the prevalence of jello shot consumption should be interpreted with caution and viewed only as a preliminary estimate. Despite this limitation, however, the study reveals that jello shot consumption among older adolescents is a significant phenomenon that should be recognized in the alcohol literature. Jello shot use is not only prevalent among underage youth but it represents a substantial proportion of their overall alcohol intake. This phenomenon is particularly concerning because of evidence that jello is an effective vehicle for alcohol delivery that masks the bitter taste of alcohol and makes it easier for youth to consume larger quantities.
Future surveillance of youth alcohol use should include jello shots, as they appear to be an important source of youth alcohol intake. Further research on jello shots should quantify the nature and extent of its use among a large, nationally representative sample of youth and examine the potential association of jello shot use with high risk drinking behaviors.