Has Kim Jong-un lost weight? How his IWC watch strap offers telling clues about the North Korean leader’s health (and waistline)

Kim Jong-un’s weight has provoked concerns about the North Korean leader’s health. Photos: Reuters, @martyn_williams/Twitter

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to have shed some pounds – following more than a decade of substantial weight gain – according to North Korea watchers and an NK News analysis of state media.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency, reported in November that Kim weighed just over 300 pounds (136kg). When he took to power a decade earlier the agency reported that Kim weighed under 200 pounds (90kg).

Kim is believed to be about 5 foot 7 inches tall (1.7 metres), so at more than 300 pounds, the North Korean leader, assessed to be in his mid-thirties, would be considered severely obese and potentially at risk for various health problems.

Last April, during an unexplained absence, there was rampant speculation that Kim was in “grave danger” after an operation, that he was dead, or in a coma or brain-dead.

Slimmer? North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a meeting with senior officials from the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee and Provincial Party Committees in Pyongyang, North Korea, in an undated photo released on June 8, 2021, by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. Photo: KCNA/via Reuters

It turns out Kim was actually alive and well, but he definitely has not been the picture of perfect health. The following photo is one of Kim in late February or early March of this year.


The North Korean leader appeared on state-run KCTV on June 5, as NK News senior analytic correspondent Colin Zwirko noted on Twitter, and expert North Korea watchers pointed out that he looks to have shed some weight.

NK News conducted an analysis of multiple state media photos of Kim wearing his US$12,000 Portofino Automatic watch made by IWC Schaffhausen, noticing that the length of the strap past the buckle appears longer in recent photos than it did last November, indicating that he was able to wear it tighter on his wrist.

Though this type of analysis is not always an exact science, state media images and video have provided a wealth of information about developments within North Korea, especially the country’s nuclear warhead and missile programmes.

“You have to use all available resources,” Su Mi Terry, said North Korea expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “For a very difficult country like North Korea, where they tightly control information, you have to do what you can.”

Like his then-American counterpart Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has long been regarded as overweight. Photo: AFP

In recent photos, Kim’s face looks a little smaller, and his clothes appear to fit a little more loosely than they do in some other pictures from past events.


“On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much,” Michael Brodka, a US military intelligence officer in South Korea, told NK News, “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. Right now, we do not know, but it raises enough serious questions that we must pay attention to events over the next couple of months to find out.”

Kim Jong-un’s weight and related health concerns, as well as his reported affinity for chain smoking cigarettes and drinking heavily, have long been considered risk factors for the North Korean regime, and they have fuelled a lot of speculation about succession in the event of a sudden death.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is reportedly a heavy smoker. Photo: Reuters

“Succession is very unclear if something were to happen to Kim Jong-un,” said Terry. “We know he’s unhealthy. So we need to care.”


She said that leadership health is probably “one of the most important indicators” of regime stability. For North Korea, she said, “Kim Jong-un’s health is the biggest wild card.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Kim Jong-un
  • In November, South Korea’s spy agency estimated Kim Jong-un to weigh at least 136kg – but new pictures suggest a dramatic transformation
  • The longer dangling strap of his US$12,000 Portofino Automatic watch, and apparently baggier clothes, have further fed speculation by political pundits