Kim Loses 44 Pounds as N. Korea Gains New Missile

Herbie J Pilato

According to South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently lost approximately 44 pounds, but remains healthy and is trying to boost public loyalty to him in the face of worsening economic problems, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Thursday. 

Kim’s health has been the topic of conversation in recent months due to his visibly thinner appearance in state media photos and videos. Kim, 37, has not yet publicly anointed a successor and some observers say this could lead to chaos in the impoverished nuclear-armed country.

As North Korea held a military parade last month Kim was front and center with his smaller physical presence. He was sporting a cream-colored suit for the event and took his spot on a balcony to observe the festivities. He was seen smiling in response to thunderous applause from performers and spectators. He waved to those gathered and kissed children who presented him with flowers. 

Despite Kim's less-hefty profile, longtime North Korea observers have said Kim has no apparent health problems and his weight loss is likely the result of his efforts to improve his physique. They noted that he has continued his regular public activities and no unusual developments have been seen in North Korean videos. 

But unconfirmed rumors about him have continued to appear, with one tabloid claiming that recent public appearances used an impostor. But lawmaker Kim Byung-kee said the NIS told the parliamentary session that Kim’s weight has fallen from about 140 kilograms (308 pounds) to 120 kilograms (264 pounds). The NIS has previously said Kim is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall.

In the meantime, North Korea recently acknowledged the test-fire of a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine. The day before that announcement, South Korea's military said a missile was ignited off the east coast near Japan, from the port of Sinpo in North Korea, where they retrain its submarines.

In a report published by The Associated Press, the NIS said North Korea’s annual trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline, declined by two-thirds to $185 million through September this year compared to the previous year, Ha said.

North Korean officials are challenged by increasing prices of goods and shortages of medicine and other essential supplies that have acerbated the spread of water-borne diseases such as typhoid fever. The country has also been struggling to import the paper and ink it utilizes to print banknotes, forcing North Korean officials to issue temporary currency, according to Ha’s account of the NIS briefing. 

While reduced trade has limited the supply of materials needed for industrial activity, North Korean officials are pushing workers hard to increase production. Excessive factory operations caused an explosion at a major fertilizer plant in August, Ha quoted the NIS as saying. 

The NIS corroborated recent reports by the World Health Organization that North Korea is beginning to relax its rigid COVID-19 border restrictions to receive outside assistance.

Analysts have said North Korea could be unsettled with regard to international monitoring requirements that would be attached to the vaccines it receives from the outside world. There are also reports that Kim Jong Un has domestic political motivations to increase the country’s self-imposed lockdown as he rallies for unity and attempts to secure his position.

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Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including biographies of Mary Tyler Moore, and "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery. He also writes for,, and is the host and an executive producer of "Then Again with Herbie J Pilato," a classic TV talk show.

Los Angeles, CA

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