The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has prompted more speculation about his health after recent photographs suggested he had lost weight.
Kim, whose heavy frame has drawn global interest since he became the country’s leader almost a decade ago, looked noticeably trimmer in images released by state media on Saturday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
NK News, which analysed photos of Kim addressing a ruling party politburo meeting late last week – his first public appearance for a month – said he appeared to have lost a “significant amount of weight”.
On Tuesday the Seoul-based website published enlarged images suggesting that Kim, who is believed to be 37, had tightened the strap on his favourite watch, reportedly worth $12,000.
The photos appear to show that his left wrist is considerably thinner than in similar images taken in November 2020 and March this year.
Kim, un heavy smoker whose father, Kim Jong-il, died from a suspected heart attack in December 2011, has struggled with health conditions observers attribute to his weight and lifestyle.
South Korea’s national intelligence service told MPs last year it believed Kim weighed 140kg (22st) and had gained an average of 6-7kg a year since coming to power in late 2011, NK News said.
It was not clear from the website’s report if Kim’s altered appearance was the result of illness or a conscious decision to lose weight.
One analyst told NK News the leader may have decided to lose weight to improve his standing at home. The country is battling food shortages and an economic crisis triggered by a dramatic fall in trade with China during the coronavirus pandemia, a series of natural disasters and international sanctions imposed in response to the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Kim’s health is a frequent source of speculation. Nel 2014, he dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a walking stick. Days later, South Korea’s spy agency claimed he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.
A three-week absence last spring sparked rumours that he had fallen seriously ill after undergoing heart surgery, with some reports suggesting he had died. A more plausible theory – that he had simply been isolating with his family as a precaution during the pandemic – emerged after Kim reappeared, apparently in good health.
North Korea continues to insist that it has not found a single case of the virus after sealing its borders with China and Russia, and halting air travel.