North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the Russia (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
- North Korea’s Kim Jong Un appears to have lost weight, according to an NK News analysis and experts.
- Last year, South Korea’s spy agency said Kim weighed just over 130kg, but he now appears thinner.
- The world watches his weight closely as it offers insight into his health and that of the regime.
- See more stories on Business Insider SA’s home page.
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 130kg.
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 around 90kg when he took power about a decade ago.
Kim is said to be about 170cm tall, so at more than 130kg, the North Korean leader, assessed to be somewhere in his mid-30s, would be considered severely obese and potentially at risk for various health problems.
Last April, during an unexplained absence, there was rampant speculation that Kim was in “grave danger” after an operation, that he was dead, or in a coma or brain-dead.
It turns out Kim was actually alive and well, but he is definitely not in peak health.
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.
NK News conducted an analysis of multiple state media photos of Kim wearing his R160,000 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.
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 of Kim.
“On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much,” Michael Brodka, a US military intelligence officer in South Korea, told NK News, “but it can provide clues to other information that intelligence collectors look for,”
“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 smoking and drinking, have long been seen as risk factors for the North Korean regime, and they have fueled a great deal of speculation about succession in the event that Kim 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 kow he’s unhealthy. So we need to care” about his weight gain, loss, and overall health.
She 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.”