Heart-broken North Koreans have been worrying tearfully about leader Kim Jong-un’s “emaciated looks,” state media reported – a rare acknowledgement of foreign speculation about his weight loss.
The comments were regarded as an effort to boost domestic support for Mr Kim as he grapples with deepening economic hardships caused by the pandemic, mismanagement, UN economic sanctions and natural disasters, some experts said.
“Our people’s hearts ached most when we saw (Mr Kim’s) emaciated looks,” North Korean state TV cited an unidentified male resident as saying on Friday. “Everyone says their tears are welling up in their eyes naturally.”
In recent state media photos, Mr Kim appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight. Some North Korea watchers said the leader, who is about 170 centimetres tall and previously weighed 140 kilograms, may have lost 10-20kg.
Mr Kim’s health is the focus of keen outside attention as the leader, 37, has not publicly anointed a successor who would take charge of North Korea’s advancing nuclear arsenal if he is incapacitated.
Some analysts in Seoul said Mr Kim is likely to have gone on a diet to improve his health. Others speculated that his weight loss might be related to health issues.
Mr 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.
In recent months, Mr Kim has called for stronger unity to overcome what he calls “the worst-ever” crisis caused by pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced North Korea’s international trade, persistent US-led sanctions and crop-killing summer storms last year.