North Korea has banned citizens from discussing Kim Jong Un's weight loss and told people that gossip is a 'reactionary act'.
Government authorities have insisted the despot is eating less 'for the sake of the country' as it grapples with severe food shortages and claimed Kim is healthy.
Speculation about Kim's health started after photos showed the despot looking increasingly thin after he apparently shed up to 44 pounds earlier this year.
But efforts to stifle gossip about Kim's weight have failed, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Sources said neighbourhood watch units had made official statements warning people discussions about Kim's health were banned.
'The neighbourhood watch unit also said the sudden weight loss is not due to a health problem, but rather that he is suffering in solitude for the sake of the country and people in crisis', the anonymous source said.
It is reportedly the first time officials in North Korea have addressed speculation around Kim's weight loss or heath as it is usually considered a taboo topic.
New pictures from show Kim Jong Un waving to a crowd of enthusiastic military officers looking noticeably slimmer in his trademark Mao suit
South Korea's spy agency reported Kim (pictured in 2018) had bulked up to 285 pounds, having piled on around 90 pounds since taking power in 2011, 'bingeing on food and drink'
People lay floral tributes in front of statues of the late North Korean dictators Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il - both of whom were obese and died from heart attacks
But some residents told RFA they were pleased to see their leader slim down 'as the way he appeared before he lost weight seemed to be more dangerous to his health'.
Another source said North Koreans were pleased at Kim's weight loss because he was so large 'it had become difficult for him to walk'.
Some observers say Kim - who is about 5ft8in tall and has previously weighed 308 pounds may have lost between 22 and 44 pounds.
The despot was last month shown waving to a crowd of enthusiastic military officers and seemed to have lost weight around his waist and face with his trademark Mao suit appearing slightly baggy.
Images from the first workshop of the commanders and political officers of the Korean People's Army show held in July showed Kim with a noticeably slimmer face.
It comes two months after state TV said Kim's 'emaciated' condition was 'breaking our people's hearts' in a highly unusual broadcast in a country where public discussion of the leader's health and personal life has always been off-limits.
The tightly controlled state media on June 25 quoted an unidentified resident of Pyongyang as saying that everyone in North Korea was heartbroken after seeing images of the noticeably slimmer Kim.
Analysts say the remarks showed authorities were seeking to use the change to Kim's weight to reinforce loyalty to the regime in desperate times.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed country is more isolated than ever behind its self-imposed coronavirus barricade, and this month admitted it was tackling a food crisis, sounding the alarm in a nation with a moribund agricultural sector that has long struggled to feed itself.
At the same time Kim's health has long been closely watched internationally as his sudden death would raise questions over succession and stability.
Known as a heavy smoker, the leader has long been obese, with his weight appearing to increase steadily in recent years.
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 for North Korea's state media and Pyongyang has never even confirmed how many children he has.
But KCTV in July aired a clip of an unnamed resident of the capital 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,' he said.
'Everyone is talking about how their tears welled up immediately.'
Some observers say Kim (pictured on February 8) - who is about 5ft8in tall and has previously weighed 308 pounds may have lost between 22 and 44 pounds
Analysts say the remarks showed authorities were seeking to use the change to Kim's weight to reinforce loyalty to the regime
Kim Jong Un also appears to have shed weight on his face, images from the first workshop of the commanders and political officers of the Korean People's Army in July 2021 show
North Korea residents worry after Kim Jong Un appears thinner
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 and other challenges.
'If outside observers picked up on the change in Kim's appearance, you can bet your bottom dollar that the North Korean people noticed it, too, and more quickly,' said Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
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.
In 2016, South Korea's spy agency reported Kim had bulked up to 285 pounds, having piled on around 90 pounds since taking power in 2011, 'bingeing on food and drink'.
Last year it was estimated Kim Jong Un (pictured in May 2020) had put on another 20 pounds, taking him to around 305 pounds
Last year it was estimated he had put on another 20 pounds, taking him to around 305 pounds.
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 told AFP. 'What's clear -- from the KCTV footage -- 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.'
Kim has acknowledged a 'tense' food situation that could worsen if this year's crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
'The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,' said Chad O'Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.
'Regardless of the motivation for Kim's rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time.'
The regime may have intended from the beginning to emphasise the fact that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or its messaging may have been an unintended consequence of Kim's inevitable appearance, Green said.
'What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim's condition was a talking point among ordinary people,' he said.
'From there it is a simple matter to respond by designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the regime's advantage.'
Analysts say Pyongyang is using Kim's appearance as a way to glorify him by portraying him as a 'devoted, hardworking' leader
Kim Jong Un looks significantly thinner in new propaganda video
The 'pseudo-voxpop' - carefully staged by state media to look authentic - such as the one from the unnamed Pyongyang resident was a common North Korean media tactic, he added.
It is unusual, though not unheard of, for North Korean state media to mention a leader's health.
In 2014 it reported that Kim - who inherited his position from his father and grandfather before him - suffered from 'discomfort' after a prolonged period out of the public eye.
With succession plans unclear, a sudden decline in Kim's health could throw nuclear-armed North Korea's 76-year-old system of hereditary leadership into disarray.
'It is a major weight loss, and his health is important to the functioning and fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely,' said Town of 38 North.