Kim Jong Un Reportedly Ill, May Have Diabetes And Gout

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance during his visit to the Wonsan Shoe Factory

North Korea’s young, reclusive leader may be ill, because even the North Korean press is acknowledging that something is wrong:

That Kim Jong-un is carrying a few extra pounds has been obvious since he became North Korea’s leader in late 2011. But speculation that his increasing weight – apparently partly due to a weakness for cheese – has brought on debilitating spells of gout rose dramatically this week, after he failed to attend an important parliamentary session.

Rumours that Kim, reputedly a heavy smoker, is in less than robust health surfaced earlier this year when state TV footage showed him with a pronounced limp and looking noticeably bulkier than he did during his first few months as leader.

On Friday, North Korean authorities, in a rare display of openness about their leader’s health, admitted for the first time that Kim was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition”, although they did not confirm rumours that the 31-year-old, Swiss-educated leader was suffering from gout.

State media issued the brief comment on Kim’s physical condition after he failed to appear at a session of the supreme people’s assembly – North Korea’s national legislature, where leaders would normally be expected to make an appearance.

In a one-hour documentary aired on Thursday that showed a limping Kim visiting a factory near Pyongyang, the narrator said: “The wealth and prosperity of our socialism is thanks to the painstaking efforts of our marshal, who keeps lighting the path for the people, like the flicker of a flame, despite suffering discomfort.”

Kim’s three-week public absence comes months after he was shown limping, and wearing loose clothes, during inspections of military units and factories.

His last appearance was on 3 September, when Kim, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, was shown sitting in the front-row seats at a concert by the North Korean girl group the Moranbong Band.

Despite his love of baseball and basketball – evident in his friendship with the former NBA star Dennis Rodman – Kim is not known for his sporting prowess beyond occasional outings on horseback. South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper charitably speculated that his limp had been caused by a sports injury, but Yonhap suggested that the portly dictator’s health problems were more serious.

The South Korean news agency quoted a source said to be familiar with North Korean affairs as saying that Kim was suffering from gout, diabetes and high blood pressure. Kim Il-sung, Kim’s grandfather and North Korea’s founder, and his father Kim Jong-il both suffered from gout, as does his elder brother, Kim Jong-nam.

Yonhap’s source said that a North Korean medical team had visited Germany and Switzerland, where Kim is thought to have been educated, to consult colleagues about his health issues.

South Korea’s unification ministry said on Friday that it was monitoring Kim “with various possibilities in mind, including the rumours about health problems”.

Speculation is mounting that Kim, who may have been trying to gain weight to resemble his revered grandfather, was paying the price for his penchant for alcohol and rich food.

As with all things North Korean, it’s hard to ferret out the truth here but the fact that the government media is even acknowledging that he’s suffering from “discomfort” would suggest that whatever is ailing him may be somewhat more serious. Indeed, the fact that he’s only in his early 30s and may already be suffering from disease that typically only afflict people at older ages, if ever, would be quite serious. It would, however, be consistent with his father and his grandfather, who both suffered from ailments related to their extravagent lifestyles during their lifetimes. And, of course, the irony of Kim suffering from conditions related to overindulgence in a country where starvation and malnutrition are a way of life for the people cannot be understated.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Well, if he’s a death’s door, we can only hope the doctor will pull him through.

  2. Jeremy says:

    If KJU dies…who replaces him?

  3. Gustopher says:

    @Jeremy: I’m not doing anything these days, I guess I could be dictator of North Korea. In fact, I am calling dibs right now.

  4. David in KC says:

    @Gustopher: based on past practices in North Korea, I’m guessing any uncles, aunts, cousins etc are probably hoping you don’t get the job…

  5. J-Dub says:

    They are now claiming that he has two broken ankles. I didn’t even know that Dennis Rodman had a crossover move.