Photos released by North Korea's state news media of its Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un addressing the ruling party has sparked debate over his state of health. In the photos released by KCNA, Kim is noticeably thinner.
The leaders' figure caused some to speculate his weight loss may be a sign of his deteriorating health. South Korea-based NK News said it had analyzed the photos of Kim during his meeting last week.
The news agency said he appeared to have lost a "significant amount of weight." The agency said it compared old pictures of the Supreme Leader, who had not been seen in public for close to a month, with the new pictures and found some interesting details. NK News said Kim had worn his luxury watch much tighter than before.
Political science analysts at MIT said Kim's dramatic weight loss could be the cause of one of just two reasons. Analysts said Kim could have lost weight intentionally for health reasons or he could be experiencing medical issues that led to the weight loss.
Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, said that if Kim lost weight intentionally, it could signal his intention of running the country for much longer. However, Narang said the latter reason could have more serious implications.
"If [the sudden weight loss] is due to a health condition though, the jockeying for his succession may already be happening behind the scenes, and that volatility could be trouble for the outside world," Narang said.
South Korean intelligence officials have also expressed concerns about Kim's weight loss but most have declined to speculate given the lack of data. The South Korean National Intelligence Service said in a report last year that Kim had "gained an average of 6 to 7 kilograms per year" since he came into power in 2011. The sudden reversal of the trend could indicate a drastic change in his health, the agency said.
"On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much, 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," Mike Brodka, an intelligence officer for U.S. Special Operations Command in South Korea said.