When caffeine is added to beverages, it increases beverage liking and the relative reinforcing value (RRV) of these beverages after repeated exposure. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that a single acute exposure to caffeine increases liking and motivation to consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) relative to placebo.
Participants were children ages 8–9 years (n = 36) and adolescents ages 15–17 years (n = 41) with an approximately equal number of boys and girls. A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study was conducted where participants sampled a SSB containing caffeine (1 and 2 mg/kg) on one visit and placebo (quinine 0.01 and 0.02 mg/kg) on a second visit day and then, on a third visit, played a computer game to earn points for the beverages and rated liking and taste sensations. They returned to the laboratory after a 1-week washout and had the alternate dose combination.
Acute exposure to the higher dose of caffeine increased the RRV of the SSB relative to placebo, but only when that dose was presented in the first week and only in female participants. The liking of the caffeine-containing SSB at the higher dose was lower than the placebo at all time points.
These data suggest that a single exposure to a caffeinated SSB can impact its RRV and liking, but only under certain conditions and only in females. This supports previous work suggesting that caffeine can increase desire to consume SSB.