Recent media reviews within the West, South Korea and even in North Korea have highlighted Chairman Kim Jong Un’s latest weight reduction, resulting in a flurry of hypothesis as as to whether his weight reduction is intentional or as a result of sickness. A cautious evaluate of feedback within the North Korean media, plus Kim’s latest political habits and sure intentions, recommend that Kim’s weight reduction is intentional and associated to well being considerations. Both a need on his half to enhance his well being—as contrasted along with his potential worsening well being—and his precise well being have big political implications for the Korean Peninsula.
Since taking energy in December 2011, following the sudden cardiac loss of life of his father, Kim Jong Il, Kim has gained a considerable amount of weight. He is roughly 5 foot seven, thought to weigh over 300 kilos, and suffers from morbid weight problems (e.g., physique mass index [BMI] > 40; the above numbers recommend a BMI of 47). Kim’s weight alone raises reputable well being considerations relating to doable cardiac illness, secondary diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension and elevated ldl cholesterol. These danger elements, alongside along with his household historical past of cardiac illness (in each his father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather Kim Il Sung) and his heavy smoking behavior, put him at a excessive danger of struggling a cardiac occasion or stroke inside the subsequent decade.
The home political context of Kim’s latest weight reduction, following an absence from public view for a number of weeks, has vital implications for North Korea. In latest months, Kim has publicly highlighted the necessity to battle towards exterior situations and adversaries, even referring to the language of the tragic “Arduous March” of the late 90s, during which over a million North Koreans perished as a result of famine, and noting latest meals shortages. Recent North Korean media accounts have lamented that its residents have been “heartbroken” at seeing their chief so “emaciated” at a latest televised artwork efficiency. The most hanging facet of such commentary within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s media is that it occurred in any respect. Kim’s well being has beforehand been—like that of most autocratic leaders—a carefully guarded state secret. The state media’s latest openness on this regard means that Kim needs to play up his weight reduction for political causes. But doing so additionally serves to humanize Kim and make him extra interesting—and never solely to the North Korean public; on this sense, he’s performing like a really fashionable, even millennial sort of chief.
What may account for Kim’s latest weight reduction, if not as a result of underlying illness? One risk is that he has been on weight reduction medicines for the previous few months, which might usually permit for weight lack of one to 2 kilos per week if accompanied by a correctly managed food plan. Alternatively, Kim could have had a bariatric surgical procedure process corresponding to a gastric sleeve or a gastric bypass. In most instances, these may be achieved laparoscopically and would result in a weight lack of 5 kilos per week, with long-term focused weight lack of 50 p.c of his extra weight (e.g., > BMI 25).
At this level, time and additional obvious weight reduction may reply the query of whether or not Kim has had bariatric surgical procedure or medically handled weight reduction. That mentioned, even when Kim is lastly (!) paying extra consideration to his well being, we’ll get a greater sense of his intentions if he additionally quits smoking and heavy consuming. As first seen throughout his preliminary 2018 summits with South Korean President Moon, his spouse (Ri Sol Ju) has nagged him—even in public—about quitting smoking. More not too long ago, she could have performed an vital function in Kim’s well being decisions and well being promotion.
It’s additionally doable that COVID—and its ongoing mutations and variants (a few of that are extra infectious)—could have additional alarmed Kim, as his morbid weight problems and sure heart problems and Type 2 diabetes are danger elements. And he could thereby be much more motivated to stay wholesome in order to finish his long-term aspirational targets for the DPRK.
As Kim asks the North Korean individuals to tighten their belts extra, it’s politically sensible for him to shed weight. Surely, he can’t assist however discover the nice well being and vigor of different (older) leaders whom he has met, corresponding to Presidents Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Moon Jae-in. And most significantly, if he needs to cross on the Mt. Paektu lineage to certainly one of his youngsters, he’ll have to stay wholesome sufficient to take action over time (as was the case along with his father), versus his speedy interval of preparation following Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008. Kim could have begun to understand that HIS longevity and well being—not merely possessing nuclear weapons—is what ensures the survival of the DPRK and his legacy. In this sense, Kim’s weight reduction might not be a nasty factor. It additionally sends alerts to the US and others that a more healthy Kim could have extra time to attend for the optimum situations to barter. Presidents Joseph Biden, Xi, Moon and Putin ought to take word.