STARVING North Koreans are increasingly worried about the health of "emaciated" Kim Jong-un in the wake of his dramatic weight loss, claims state media.
Images of a new "slim Kim" have emerged in recent weeks after it was revealed the feared leader ballooned to more than 22 stone amid dire food shortages across his country.
Now state TV has run a highly-unusual story about his new trimmed-down look – even though any discussion of his health and personal life has always been off-limits.
It features an unnamed North Korean citizen close to tears saying their "Glorious Leader"now looks "emaciated" and people are getting very concerned.
However, analysts say the broadcast just shows the Pyongyang propaganda machine is trying to use Kim's weight to reinforce loyalty to the regime in desperate times.
Earlier this month the Sun Online reported how North Korea could run out of food in just two months.
The price of staple foods have skyrocketed as a result of intense storm damage to the rogue state’s produce industry.
The 37-year-old leader admits there is a desperate need to increase agricultural production as “the people’s food situation is now getting tense."
Known as a heavy smoker, Kim has long been obese, with his weight appearing to increase steadily in recent years.
He has struggled with his health as a result of his spiralling weight and his fridge-raiding lifestyle.
South Korea’s national intelligence unit said it believed he hit 22 stone last year after gaining around a stone a YEAR since coming to power in 2011.
Kim has a legendary appetite, apparently gorging himself on Swiss cheese, caviar and lobster while drinking multiple bottles of wine in a night.
But he looked noticeably less overweight in recent media images published by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency and on state television.
Kim's personal life is normally taboo but KCTV last week aired a clip of an unnamed citizen claiming everyone in the country was "heartbroken" by his "emaciated" condition.
"Seeing our respected general secretary looking emaciated breaks our people's hearts the most," the man said.
"Everyone is talking about how their tears welled up immediately."
Analysts say Pyongyang is using Kim's appearance as a way to glorify him by portraying him as a "devoted, hardworking" leader as the country struggles to tackle its food crisis.
It shut its borders in January last year to protect itself against the pandemic, and as a result trade with Beijing- its economic lifeline – has slowed to a trickle while all international aid workers have left the country.
"The message Pyongyang is sending is that Kim is a leader who works very hard for his people even to a degree he skips meals and loses weight," defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il told AFP.
Global speculation about Kim's health flared last year after he missed the commemoration of the birthday of his late grandfather, and was absent from public view for about 20 days.
Kim's father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung were also obese and heavy smokers. Both died of heart attacks.
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out it was unlikely his recent weight loss was a symptom of acute ill health, as he had attended several public events this month.
"No one can really know why he lost weight," he said. "What's clear is the regime wants the world to think that its people love care for their leader, to a point where they'd cry over his thinner appearance."
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