North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's apparent weight loss has shocked and saddened the people of his country, according to select interviews with citizens by state media.
Kim's physical appearance is radically stark compared to one year ago, as experts have deliberated whether his apparent loss of weight is from more benign causes, such as the food shortage in North Korea, or if there are more serious complications regarding his health.
"We were most heartbroken when we saw our dear general secretary had become emaciated," a middle-aged North Korea man said, referring to one of Kim’s titles. "Tears came out naturally," the Wall Street Journal reported the man as saying, citing state media.
On June 16, Kim spoke about the country's food shortage and economic crisis during a meeting of the Workers' Party's Central Committee. He urged leaders to resolve the situation stemming from low agricultural output and attributing the cause to last summer's typhoons that wiped out much of the yield for this year's supply.
KIM JONG UN'S HEALTH PROBLEMS UNLIKELY, ANALYSTS SAY
A professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Korea University, Nam Sung-wook, said Kim's regime is attempting to stimulate public sympathy for him by conducting interviews about his weight loss as the country's economic situation deteriorates.
He said, "We can’t rule out that Mr. Kim listened to his doctor and lost weight."
Regardless of how Kim's weight loss came about, a former Seoul official and expert on North Korean policy said the change in his physique is likely unintentional.
"In North Korea, being overweight is a sign of authority and power," said Kim Chun-sig, the former official. "That’s why Kim Jong Un gained weight in the first place and why he is unlikely to have lost weight on purpose."
Despite Kim's known smoking habits and his typically obese physique, which could have an impact on his health, a South Korean analyst said the leader's weight loss is likely not a sign of serious illness.
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"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," said Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification. The most recent photos of Kim were taken at the meeting earlier this month.