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Speculation about Kim Jong Un's health 'unfounded,' Seoul's spy agency says

Kim Jong Un’s visibly thinner appearance has prompted speculation about his health in South Korea, according to South Korean press reports Wednesday. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
Kim Jong Un’s visibly thinner appearance has prompted speculation about his health in South Korea, according to South Korean press reports Wednesday. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

July 7 (UPI) -- South Korea's spy agency dismissed reports of Kim Jong Un's weight loss as a sign of ill health, after North Korean state television aired a segment showing a North Korean citizen bemoaning the change in Kim's physique.

Seoul's National Intelligence Service said Wednesday that Kim's transformation does not raise concerns and that assessments that suggest the leader's health is deteriorating are not valid, Yonhap and Newsis reported.

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"Kim Jong Un presided over the expanded meeting of Korean Workers' Party's Politburo on June 29, and is believed to be carrying out his role at a normal level until recently," the South Korean spy agency said, referring to the heightened speculation.

"The National Intelligence Service deems the rumors about Kim Jong Un's person are unfounded."

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Speculation about Kim's failing health have been circulating in South Korea after a North Korean man on Pyongyang's Korea Central Television said he was "heartbroken" over Kim's change of appearance.

The image of a visibly thinner Kim "brought people to tears," the North Korean man said on state TV, according to CNN.

Cheong Seong-chang, a South Korean analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told CNN that North Korean state media could be "trying to sell people on the idea that Kim Jong Un is losing weight because he is overworking himself to make people's lives better in North Korea."

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Kim has addressed the need for an improved state response to COVID-19, admitted the country faces a looming food shortage and that the economy has failed under a previous five-year plan.

Dr. Kenneth Dekleva, a psychiatrist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said on 38 North that Kim's recent weight loss is likely intentional and related to health concerns.

"We'll get a better sense of his intentions if he also quits smoking and heavy drinking," the analyst wrote.

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Dekleva also said the possibility Kim may have undergone surgery that led to weight loss cannot be ruled out. Kim is believed to weigh more than 300 pounds though he is 5-foot-7, the analyst said.

Experts have said Kim's health has significant implications for the two Koreas. Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, is believed to have died after cardiac arrest in 2011.

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