North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to have lost some weight after years of rather substantial weight gain, according to North Korea watchers and an NK News analysis of state media.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency, reported in November that Kim weighed just over 300 pounds.
What a difference a decade makes. October 2010 vs January 2021. @alistaircoleman and I were talking Kim Jong Un weight gain but this progression deserves its own tweet. This is why many think the biggest threat to Kim is his own health. pic.twitter.com/hpTv8JpcVv
— Martyn Williams (@martyn_williams) February 12, 2021
The South Korean spy service reported that Kim weighed under 200 pounds when he took power about a decade ago.
Kim is believed to be about 5 foot 7 inches tall, so at more than 300 pounds, the North Korean leader, assessed to be in his mid-30s, would be considered severely and potentially at risk for various health problems.
It turns out Kim was actually alive and well, but he definitely has not been the picture of perfect health. The following photo is one of Kim in late February or early March of this year.
The North Korean leader appeared on state-run KCTV on June 5, as NK News Senior Analytic Correspondent Colin Zwirko noted on Twitter, and expert North Korea watchers pointed out that he looks to have shed some weight.
Is it just the camera angle or has Kim lost a *lot* of weight? https://t.co/sOZ6dFJxsw
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) June 5, 2021
NK News conducted an analysis of multiple state media photos of Kim wearing his $12,000 Portofino Automatic watch made by IWC Schaffhausen, noticing that the length of the strap past the buckle appears longer in recent photos than it did last November, indicating that he was able to wear it tighter on his wrist.
— James Pearson (@pearswick) June 8, 2021
Though this type of analysis is not always an exact science, analysis of state media images and video have provided a wealth of information about developments within North Korea, especially the country’s nuclear warhead and missile programs.
“You have to use all available resources,” Su Mi Terry, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider.
“For a very difficult country like North Korea, where they tightly control information, you have to do what you can,” she said, calling attention to the value of open-source intelligence.
In recent photos, Kim’s face looks a little smaller, and his clothes appear to fit a little more loosely than they do in some other pictures from past events.
“On the surface, noticeable told NK News, “but it can provide clues to other information that intelligence collectors look for,”may not mean much,” Michael Brodka, a U.S. military intelligence officer in South Korea,
“It may be a simple matter of a healthy lifestyle change or a more complex issue,” he said. “Right now, we do not know, but it raises enough serious questions that we must pay attention to events over the next couple of months to find out.”
Kim Jong Un’s weight and related health concerns, as well as his reported affinity for chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking heavily, have long been considered risk factors for the North Korean regime, and they have fueled a lot of speculation about succession in the event the man dies suddenly.
The perceived fragility of the North Korean leadership, which commands a nuclear-armed country, is considered cause for at least some level of concern.
“Succession is very unclear if something were to happen to Kim Jong Un,” Terry told Insider. “We know he’s unhealthy. So we need to care” about his weight gain, loss, and overall health.
In one passage in seasoned reporter and North Korea expert Ana Fifield’s 2019 book The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong Un, she described the young leader as looking “like a heart attack waiting to happen.” His father, Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack after apparently suffering a stroke a few years earlier.
Terry said that leadership health is probably “one of the most important indicators” of regime stability. For North Korea, she said, “Kim Jong Un’s health is the biggest wild card.”