Kim Jong Un Health Problems Unlikely Amid Weight Loss Speculation, South Korean Analyst Says

Images circulating on the internet of Kim Jong Un show that the 37-year-old North Korean leader has lost a significant amount of weight.

This has led to speculation about the state of his health, especially since Kim has not publically appointed a successor to take over if he is incapacitated.

However, Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification, said Kim's weight loss is more likely about improving his health than a sign of serious illness.

"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, Hong said.

Kim Jong Un Health Concerns
People watch a television screen showing news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the 8th congress of the ruling Workers' Party held in Pyongyang, at a railway station in Seoul on January 6, 2021. New photos of Kim's apparent weight loss have caused speculation about the leader's health. Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

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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.

Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies said the North's recent creation of a first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, the country's No. 2 job, might have been related to Kim's possible health issues. He said Kim may have allowed the post's establishment at the urging of top officials but still hasn't named anyone to the job because it could loosen his grip on power.

"If Kim faces a real health problem and is in a condition in which he can't express his opinions, though he isn't dead, who will make a decision to name the first secretary?" Seo said.

When global speculation flared about Kim's health last year after he missed the commemoration of the birthday of his late grandfather, some analysts speculated Kim's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was next in line to inherit her brother's power. Others said a collective leadership was also possible.

Kim Jong Un Weight Loss
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. The 37-year-old faces fresh speculation about his health because he looks thinner noticeably in recent state media images. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP