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Why North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Losing Weight Has Everyone Concerned

This combination of file photos provided by the North Korean government, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Workers' Party meetings in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Feb. 8, 2021, left, and June 15, 2021. Credits: AP.

This combination of file photos provided by the North Korean government, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Workers' Party meetings in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Feb. 8, 2021, left, and June 15, 2021. Credits: AP.

In recent state media images Kim Jong Un appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner

Across the world, if you lose weight to a healthy amount, usually people compliment you and ask about how the transformation happened. If you’re North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, you get an entire country worried about you. The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has long been a source of morbid fascination in rival South Korea, which sits in the shadow of Kim’s 1.2-million-strong army and his growing arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles. Has he gained even more weight? Is he struggling for breath after relatively short walks? What about that cane? Why did he miss that important state anniversary? Now, the 37-year-old faces fresh speculation in the South about his health again. But this time, it’s because he’s noticeably slimmer.

Kim’s health matters in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo and other world capitals because he hasn’t publicly anointed a successor who would control an advancing nuclear program targeting the United States and its allies — if he is incapacitated. North Korea, never open about the internal workings of its leadership, has over the last year shut itself up even tighter to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent state media images Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner. Some observers say Kim — who is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and has previously weighed 140 kilograms (308 pounds) — may have lost about 10-20 kilograms (22-44 pounds).

Kim’s apparent weight loss is more likely an attempt to improve his health, rather than a sign of illness, according to Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

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“If he was experiencing health problems, he wouldn’t have come out in public to convene the plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee,” a major political conference this week that is expected to last two to three days, Hong said.

Kim, known for heavy drinking and smoking, comes from a family with a history of heart problems. His father and grandfather, who ruled North Korea before him, both died of heart issues. Experts have said his weight could increase the possibility of cardiovascular diseases.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it has no information to share about Kim’s health. His slimmer look has been the focus of keen interest in South Korea, with media outlets publishing photos of his previous and current appearances.

Other countries aren’t the only ones concerned: Everyone in North Korea is heartbroken over leader Kim Jong Un’s apparent weight loss, an unidentified resident of Pyongyang told Reuters on the country’s tightly controlled state media, after watching recent video footage of Kim. The rare public comment on Kim’s health come after foreign analysts noted in early June that the autocratic leader, who is believed to be 37, appeared to have lost a noticeable amount of weight.

“Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people’s heart so much," the man said in an interview aired by state broadcaster KRT on Friday.

“Everyone is saying that their tears welled up," he said.

In the clip Pyongyang residents were seen watching a big screen on the street showing a concert attended by Kim and party officials after a plenary meeting of their Workers’ Party of Korea.

Early last year speculation about Kim’s health exploded after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, only to reappear in public in early May.

In 2014, state media reported that Kim was suffering from “discomfort", after a prolonged period out of the public eye

(With inputs from Reuters and Associated Press.)

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first published:June 28, 2021, 08:13 IST